Optum Pro Cycling poised to smash the field

The team formerly known as Kelly Benefit Strategies welcomed Optum Health as their title sponsor

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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Check out the Gallery from the Optum Pro Cycling presentation

With a “new title sponsor, but not a new team,” the Optum Pro Cycling squad chose the beautiful Guthrie Theatre on the banks of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis for their team presentation on Monday night.

The team formerly known as Kelly Benefit Strategies, led by Charles Aaron of Circuit Global Sports Management, – who, as the emcee noted, was “never a great cyclist, but is a lover of cycling,” – welcomed Minneapolis based Optum as their title sponsor, and now includes both a men’s team and a women’s team, and in addition, will also feature a cyclocross team in the fall of 2012-13. Such Minnesota cycling luminaries as 3-time Tour winner Greg LeMond, World Record holder and author Dan Buettner, and legendary cycling raconteur, Gene Oberpriller, attended the event.

The women’s team, led by performance director Rachel Heal, is made up of a strong, “team focused” group, including captain Kristin Sanders, and 2011 US NRC Champion Janel Holcomb. Holcomb, who comes from a chemical engineering background, and is on the 2012 US Olympic long-list, delighted the crowd with how she came late to cycling, claiming after her first few rides that, “I found I could get up the hills a lot faster than the others.” With a great mix of new and experienced riders, Sanders noted that the team will benefit because of “knowledge, confidence, and calm.”

The men’s squad is entering into its sixth season. Team Director Jonas Carney noted that it has been a “fantastic recruiting year,” and that this team promises to be “the best team yet.” He has made some notable additions to an already strong roster, including the return of Scott Zwizanski, and controversial time trial powerhouse Tom Zirbel. Zirbel returned to competition last year with Jamis-Sutter Home, after a controversial two-year suspension for a DHEA positive, which was later reduced. But the focus is on the future, and building upon the successes of the 2011 season, which saw Jesse Anthony take the opening stage of the Tour of Utah, as well as an impressive overall win, and team classification title at the Nature Valley Grand Prix. Team Captain Alex Candelario was effusive with praise for the team, citing the collaborative efforts involved in team wins, and, excitedly pronounced that with Zirbel and Zwizanski, the team is poised to “smash the field!”

With the addition of a dedicated Optum Health cyclocross team, Aaron, a Minneapolis native, noted that this “hometown” team will give fans and sponsors a chance to see the kit, “twelve months out of the year.” While it is unclear who will ride on the cyclocross side, Anthony is an outstanding cyclocross talent. He hung up his cyclocross boots this year to focus solely on the road. When asked, Anthony stated “I will always love the dirt, and someday I will return to cyclocross. But for now I’m sticking to road.” He mentioned Candelario, and Mike Sherer as potential riders who might toe the cyclocross starting line. Sherer, from Glencoe, Illinois, garnered great laughs, when his response to the query, “what was your greatest moment on the bike?” was, “isn’t every moment on the bike the greatest?”

After a team training camp in Oxnard, California in early February, the team will kick off the season at the Merco Classic in Merced, California, then will travel to the Tour of Taiwan in early March.

Service course:

The omnipresent Kelly green kits are out for 2012, in favor of a black and orange theme. Optum Pro Cycling is rolling on Orbea frames again, with HED providing wheels, bars, and stems. SRAM has the drivetrain in check, while Challenge will keep the rubber on the road. Team Mechanics are veterans Eric Jellum and Bob Gregorio.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.