The Spanish Caja Rural-Seguros RGA squad may be registered at the Pro Continental level, but what it lacks in status it makes up for with results.
The Pamplona-based team will make its U.S. stage-racing debut on Monday at the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado and line up for a fourth consecutive time at the Vuelta a España starting August 22.
But Caja Rural has already shown its strength in races in North America and abroad, winning stages at the Presidential Tour of Turkey, claiming the overall title at the Tour de Beauce in Canada, and taking top honors at the Philly Cycling Classic.
“[The team] are doing very well, the group is very united, with each victory they all have increased confidence, and this is why we’re having these kinds of results,” team manager Juanma Hernandez said after Carlos Barbero won the opening stage of the Vuelta a Burgos last week ahead of WorldTour riders Daniel Moreno (Katusha), Jesus Herrada (Movistar) and Luis Léon Sanchez (Astana).
Coming out swinging
In May, the squad raced the Presidential Tour of Turkey, attacking, making breakaways, and winning two stages — including the last one, which saw Lluis Guillermo Más upset Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step) in a tricky finale.
Then, in June, the Spaniards stormed into North America, making short work of the Philly Cycling Classic and the Tour de Beauce in Canada. It was no fluke that the team chose these two races — the finish up the Manayunk Wall in Philadelphia suits a lightweight, punchy rider, while Beauce heavily favored climbers.
Philly saw Carlos Barbero win ahead of Mike Woods (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies), recently the runner-up at the Tour of Utah. The finish on The Wall can be tricky for a first-timer, but Barbero danced up the climb as if he had been riding the race for years.
Caja Rural followed up its victory in Philly with three stage wins in Canada, plus the general classification and teams classification, landing multiple riders in the top 10 each day.
On stage two, the team went into overdrive, a tough summit finish playing right into their hands. Amet Txurruka, who will move to Orica-GreenEdge for next season, won the stage ahead of teammate Pello Bilbao. Eduard Prades finished fourth, and to top it all off Txurrka moved into the lead in the general classification. Bilbao went on to win overall.
Racing for the first time on North American soil, Caja Rural showed it didn’t travel merely to expand coverage for its sponsors, but to win, and win with style. The team showed both strength and depth, and these early performances most likely led to an invitation to race the USA Pro Challenge in the mountains of Colorado.
Most of Caja Rural’s top riders, among them Barbero, Txurruka, and Bilbao, will be racing the Vuelta while the “B” team tackles Colorado. It’s a young group, with an average age of just over 24, but the Pro Challenge squad won’t lack for firepower.
Jaime Roson Garcia joined Caja Rural at the beginning of August as a stagiaire, having won the under-23 Spanish national road race championships earlier in the year. The victory, on an extremely taxing course, showed the young gun’s stamina and power, and he will look to stretch his legs in Colorado to prove he deserves a spot on the team for 2016.
Hugh Carthy had a fantastic 2014 with Rapha Condor JLT before moving to Caja Rural for this year. The 21-year-old won the Tour de Korea, taking the stage-seven summit finish, and he has proven himself a loyal domestique, sacrificing himself for the good of the team when the road tilts up.
The duo of Fabricio Ferrari Barcelo and Antonio Molina may take their chances in breakaways in Colorado, with hopes of claiming the mountains jersey at the end of the week. Molina finished second in the KOM classification at Route de Sud in June and Barcelo finished runner-up in the classification at the Vuelta Asturias.
The green-and-white jerseys have stamped their authority throughout the world this year, winning in eight different countries with seven different riders. Caja Rural may be sending veterans to the Vuelta and young guns to Colorado, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see them making headlines an ocean away from each other.