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Sponsor woes or no, UHC flying in Colorado

Despite uncertainty surrounding the team's future, UnitedHealthcare is flying at the Colorado Classic

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DENVER, Colorado (VN) — The Colorado Classic gave UnitedHealthcare a welcome opportunity to generate some good news in an otherwise challenging time.

Their team could be folding at the end of the season if no new title sponsor is found, but that did not slow Gavin Mannion or Serghei Tvetcov down on Friday. The pair snatched both of the top spots in the stage 2 time trial in Vail. That impressive one-two came just a few hours after the UnitedHealthcare women’s team pulled off the same thing with Katie Hall and Leah Thomas.

It made for an unusual photo opportunity in the post-race press conference: four riders celebrating a banner day for a team that might not exist a few months from now.

“This is huge,” Mannion said. “It comes at a crucial moment with UnitedHealthcare looking for a new sponsor next year. To go one-two in a race of this level, you can’t really ask for anymore.”

Momentum Sports Group, which owns the team, divulged the news earlier this season that insurance company UnitedHealthcare would not be returning as a sponsor next year. That left team president Thierry Attias scrambling to find a new partner. Those around the team continue to hope for some good late-breaking news, but with the 2018 domestic season winding down after the Colorado Classic and the window for riders to sign with other teams already open, time is running out.

For the riders themselves, there is only so much that can be done. The main thing on most riders minds right now is racing well. In many cases, UnitedHealthcare’s riders in Colorado are racing for a job in 2018, although they’re trying to focus on other things.

“Personally, I don’t think about it once I’m on the bike,” Mannion said.

That strategy seemed to work well on Friday. Mannion was the convincing winner with Tvetcov comfortably ahead of third-placed Hugh Carthy (EF Education First-Drapac).

UnitedHealthcare’s quartet of top finishers after stage 2 of the Colorado Classic. Photo: Dane Cash | VeloNews

The time trial put UnitedHealthcare in the driver’s seat in both Colorado races with two stages remaining. Saturday’s lumpy stage 3 will pose the greatest challenge to the new race leader on the men’s side. On the women’s side, both of the weekend’s stages on are on the flatter end of the spectrum, although there are some lumps on Sunday’s circuit.

Should the GC picture stay this way through to the final podium, it would be quite a statement for UnitedHealthcare’s roster, which already enjoyed a healthy dose of success at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah thanks to Travis McCabe’s sprinting legs.

It won’t be easy to fend off attacks from the collection of WorldTour talents in Colorado this weekend, but Mannion pointed out that his teammates have continued to work well together so far this summer despite the looming sponsorship crisis.

“Nobody’s really gone out and raced as an individual just thinking about themselves,” he said. “I think we’ll continue that trend for the rest of the week and I think that will probably be the best for everyone.”

Sports director Hendrik Redant says the team has worked well together in recent weeks after a tough period this summer as the organization’s prospects began to look worse.

“When the uncertainty started, then it got harder to get everyone in line. But [in Utah], things worked really well and we didn’t have to say a lot,” he said.

For many of the team’s support riders, the team approach is the best way to find a job anyway. As Redant points out, lead-out man Sebastián Haedo bought into that at the Tour of Utah, and it paid off for McCabe. Redant expects other teams to take notice.

“In another situation, seven guys, or Haedo for instance, might sprint for himself. He can maybe also do a second or a third place. But they don’t,” Redant said.”I think it’s also important to know that when a director sees a team like this still working together, you know these guys are not selfish. They really want to fight for something. In a way, it’s making publicity of your own.”

Redant and his colleagues will hope to keep UnitedHealthcare marshaled for a GC defense this weekend in Colorado. They’ve already done an impressive job of delivering when it counts the past few days. If they can hold out in the overall battle, all that awaits is one of the biggest wins on the domestic calendar, coming not a moment too soon.