Rally-UHC is taking a big step up at this week’s Tour de Suisse.
Since entering into the UCI Professional Continental ranks in 2018, the American squad has dipped its toe in pro cycling’s WorldTour, taking starts at the Amgen Tour of California and WorldTour stage races in the Middle East.
Earlier this year Rally then participated La Fleche Wallonne, the hard WorldTour one-day classic.
The Tour de Suisse represents a much larger challenge for the U.S.-based squad than any of these events. The Swiss race is nine days long, and the 2019 route features seven stages with hilly or mountainous terrain. A handful of GC hopes are again using Suisse as final preparations for the Tour de France.
“This is the biggest race we’ve ever done, and we’re expecting the competition to be super high,” said Jonas Carney, the team’s performance manager. “We’re going in with the attitude of swinging for the fences.”
What does it mean to swing for the proverbial fences? Rally brings a mix of climbers, breakaway specialists, and veterans to the race, led by Brandon McNulty, who earlier this year won the Tour of Sicily. Last month McNulty struggled to overcome a sickness at the Amgen Tour of California, and eventually withdrew from the race. He’s been on the mend since then, and is optimistic about his chances in Switzerland.
“I just had to reset physically and mentally,” McNulty said on the team’s website. “Sometimes doing nothing is the best training. At this point, I’m happy to be feeling normal again and look forward to racing in Switzerland with my teammates.”
McNulty will ride alongside Rob Britton, Gavin Mannion, and Ryan Anderson in the mountains. Colin Joyce and Robin Carpenter will likely target the hilly stages for breakaways. Last week Carpenter won the Best Climber jersey at the Tour of Luxembourg after attacking into breaks. Veteran Svein Tuft will help those riders navigate the WorldTour peloton.
The team does not plan to target the GC, however. Instead, Rally will focus on breakaways, jersey prizes, and stage victories.
“If a guy like Brandon was on top form, I think he could have a respectable result on GC,” Carney said. “I think the GC is a long shot for us this year.”
There’s a lot at stake for the team throughout the nine-day race. Rally’s ownership and management have not hid their intentions to one day step into cycling’s highest echelon, the WorldTour. Accomplishing such a step forward requires a sizable influx of cash, as well as access to a UCI WorldTour license.
Cash and licenses aside, a team must also prove that its riders and staff can actually compete against WorldTour teams that have far greater budgets and experience. McNulty’s victory in Sicily represents a well-earned feather in the team’s cap. In order to catch the eye of cycling’s heads of state, Rally needs to win at the WorldTour level.
And that’s why the race has represented an important stop on the team’s radar since the winter, when Carney and his management staff established the team’s 2019 racing calendar. Teams often plug riders in to smaller races based on their current form, or adjust rosters on the fly. For Suisse, Rally chose its lineup months ago.
“We picked the roster on the assumption that everyone would be riding well, and we told them months ago,” Carney said. “Ultimately we’re going there to throw down and make something happen.”