Although UnitedHealthcare’s European debut wasn’t as successful as the team may have hoped, with illness and mechanical issues causing some riders problems, for Californian climber Chris Jones, the race was a good starting block for the 2012 season.
“It’s a form builder but it’s also a good team builder,” said Jones of the Volta ao Algarve, where UnitedHealthcare had an eight man team in action. “We have so many new guys like Jason (McCartney), Philip (Deignan), Jeff (Louder) and Marc (de Maar) this year that it’s a good chance for all of us to gel together as we’ll be racing together all spring. It’s always good to have guys that have a lot of experience on the team. Jason has something like 13 years as a pro, he’s ridden ProTour for most of his career, and Philip has a lot of talent, so it’s good to have guys like that around. It helps everyone raise their game.”
Things didn’t go exactly to plan for the squad when both de Maar and Rory Sutherland got sick during the race, with de Maar forced to withdraw after stage one when a pre-race altercation with a bee resulted in an allergic reaction. Deignan too was suffering the after effects of a chest infection picked up at home and wasn’t up to full strength.
“I think we all had good form coming into the race, so they wanted us to do well,” said Jones. “We didn’t get any results but the bigger goal was to ride as a team and overall it was good for the team to gel. We got some good miles in and the stages were hard but not overly hard. The weather has been good too. I live in Girona so it’s pretty good to get away from a couple of days of snow there last week.”
Jones infiltrated what looked like the race winning breakaway on stage four but his group was reeled in due to some domestic squabbles. “We wanted to be in the breakaway and I made what I thought was going to be the break of the day but the Portuguese teams didn’t like the other Portuguese guys that were in there and they were playing Portuguese Cup or something so they chased us back after being out there for a little bit, so that was a bit of a disappointment.”
There were also issues during the final time trial when both Deignan and Sutherland were forced to change bikes, Deignan with loose tri-bars and Sutherland with gearing problems but Jones says it’s all part of the teething process that happens during the first race of the season.
“Last year this was the first race the team had ever done over here. Everything was new. You’re always going to have little problems at the start of the season but hopefully they‘ll be ironed out now and we can look forward to a good spring campaign. Now, we have a bit of experience all around and some confidence too. I just came from the cyclocross season. I rode the world championships a couple of weeks ago, so sometimes the transition into road … you don’t really know how it’s going to go but I’m really happy I came. Now I’m looking forward to the rest of the season. If I come out of here with better fitness and stay out of trouble over the spring it’s going to be a good start of the season for me.”