By Kevin Hunter
There was plenty of optimism at the 2013 launch party for the Optum Pro Cycling Presented by Kelly Strategies team at the American Honda Museum in Torrance, CA on Feb. 15. After all, this is a team that in its seventh year of existence (second with Optum) enjoyed one of the best seasons in its history, so there were plenty of smiles all around as well as enthusiasm as the team prepares for its first event of the season on Feb. 28 in the Merco Cycling Classic in Merced, CA.
Last season the Optum Pro Cycling Presented by Kelly Strategies men’s and women’s teams had a combined 90 wins and went to the podium a total of 209 times. The women has a slight edge at the podium going up 109 times to the men’s 100, as Optum Pro Cycling Presented by Kelly Strategies team clearly establishing itself as one of the, if not the best men’s and women’s team in North American and the world. Yes it was definitely a year to look back on with a great sense of accomplishment and to celebrate going into 2013.
But with the season just a couple of weeks away, some of the celebration and optimism could lead to pressure as this team is now faced with the reality of topping last season’s totals and wondering where does it go from here. There will be no room for letdown and last season’s stellar results make the Optum Pro Cycling Presented by Kelly Strategies men’s and women’s teams the ones that everyone else will be chasing.
“It’s really extraordinary to see how this team has grown,” said team co-founder, president and owner of Kelly Strategies, John Kelly. “It’s a team that has incredible teamwork and a commitment to excellence. This is a team that puts their teammates first, they put the team second and they put themselves third. This is a team a definitely reflects the values of our organization.”
Optum Pro Cycling Presented by Kelly Strategies, which is made up primarily of North American cyclists with one lone New Zealander, Courteney Lowe, took home top honors at the 25th Annual Velonews Awards as the Best Men’s Team and Best Women’s Team. Jade Wilcoxson won for Best Breakthrough Racer, Carmen Small was honored as the Women’s Stage Racer of the Year, and Ken Hanson won for Men’s Criterium Racer of the Year.
“I think that one of the things we’ll have to do to be even more successful this season is to simply win more races,” said Hanson. Hanson is the 2012 Men’s Criterium Champion and winner of 16 races last year. “Last year was a phenomenal year for all of us and I had the fortune of having some of the best guys in the business helping me out and the teamwork really paid off. Yeah, there’s pressure and there’s always going to be pressure after having the year that we did, but we’re going to take that pressure and make it work to our advantage at making us even better than last year.”
And there appears to be no rest for the weary as the team was back in training camp at its home base in Oxnard, CA gearing up for the 2013 season, which will see it participate in 31 events between February and the end of September all over the United States and in parts of Europe and Asia. The 12-member women’s team competed in its first season last year and won 48 races. Race Director, Rachel Heal agreed that they key to not falling into a sophomore jinx will be to win more races this season.
“I think that every win and every result that we got was a result of us working amazingly together as a team and everyone working for each other,” said Heal. Heal’s team is made of up Brianna Walle, Lauren Hall, Amber Gaffney, Joelle, Annie, Leah, Denise, Janel, Jade, Grace Alexander, Courtney Lowe.
Men’s Race Director, Jonas Carney was a little more specific on how his men’s team can duplicate last year’s success by saying that this year will be no different than last year as the team tries to keep up the momentum that saw them win 48 races.
“I think I always knew that the team could win that many races, said Carney, “but what was difficult was winning that many races from March all the way through September. So I wasn’t surprised by any individual wins, but I was surprised by the sheer volume by the guys, and it just seemed like the momentum was there. Just watching the men and women feed off of each other by winning all year long was great. As elite athletes and those of us who were elite athletes, we’re always looking for be better and after every race we’re thinking about what we could have done better even if we won the race. We take stock in all of that and see where we can win even more races in the next year.”
This year’s men’s team is comprised of :
Jesse Anthony (USA)
Alex Candelario (USA)
Marsh Cooper (Can)
Mike Creed (USA)
Mike Friedman (USA)
Chad Haga (USA)
Ken Hanson (USA)
Ian Moir (USA)
Sebastian Salas (Can)
Mike Sherer (USA)
Tom Soladay (USA)
Tom Zirbel (USA)
Scott Zwizanski (USA)
Jeremy Durrin (USA)
Mitchell Hoke (USA)
Bjorn Selander (USA)
Eric Young (USA)