HUELVA, Spain (VN) — Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies begins an six-week European swing battling against the big boys in the five-day Volta ao Algarve starting Wednesday.
The American Continental team will also be hitting some other races in Portugal throughout March, capping their latest European foray with the Volta ao Alentejo on March 25-29.
The team has been competitive in previous trips to Portugal, but they know they will be facing stiff competition at the Algarve tour that includes eight WorldTour-level teams.
“We know we can be competitive in the [UCI categorized] .2 races on our schedule,” said performance director Jonas Carney in a team release. “However, the Volta ao Algarve is a different level. We will be up against roughly eight World Tour teams. We’ll approach it much the way we approach the tours of California, Colorado, Utah, or Alberta. It’s important for the team to work together, be aggressive, take chances, and seize opportunities.”
The Algarve race along Portugal’s southern coast features a top field, with defending champion — and world champion — Michal Kwiatkowski and 2011 winner Tony Martin lining up for Etixx-Quick-Step among eight WorldTour teams. Richie Porte (Sky), Tony Gallopin and André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), and Ramunas Navardauskas (Cannondale-Garmin) are among the other top names.
Optum will bring most of its roster during the European swing, rotating in different groups of riders over the next few weeks.
The team reported that Ryan Anderson, Jesse Anthony, Guillaume Boivin, Phil Gaimon, Will Routley, Mike Woods, Eric Young, and Tom Zirbel will ride at Algarve, but others, such as Brad Huff, Pierrick Naud, Bjorn Selander, Tom Soladay, and Scott Zwizanski will also rotate in at other events.
The Algarve invite is a huge boon for Optum, which continues to evolve and grow its racing platform both across North America and an ever-increasing presence in Europe.
“This is a huge race for our team and a great opportunity for our riders to go up against the best in the world. It’s not every day that a U.S. Continental team has a chance to compete in a race of this caliber. It’s very motivating for everyone involved in our program,” Carney continued.
Once back on home roads, the team is slated to race the Redlands Classic, Joe Martin Stage Race, and the Tour of the Gila, won by the team in 2014.
“Our athletes have worked very hard to prepare for this trip and they are very motivated to get results in Portugal. However, the ultimate goal for this trip is to give our riders the best possible preparation for the Amgen Tour of California and other big events in the U.S.,” Carney concluded. “We cannot think of a better way to prepare our athletes than this schedule of races in Portugal.”
The 41st running of the Tour of the Algarve features a summit finish Saturday and one individual time trial on Friday.
Volta ao Algarve (February 18-22):
Wednesday: Lagos to Albufeira (166.7km)
Thursday: Lagoa to Monchique (197.2km)
Friday: Vila do Bispo to Cabo de S. Vicente, Sagres (19km)
Saturday: Tavira to Alto do Malhao, Loulz (218.3km)
Sunday: Almodovar to Vilamoura (184.9km)