UnitedHealthcare weaves a global web with 2011 squad

Rory Sutherland talks about getting to know his new UnitedHealthcare teammates, whose origins span the globe.

2011 UnitedHealthcare camp, Rory Sutherland
Rory Sutherland is a driving force in the team and is chasing a GC podium at the Amgen Tour of California in 2011. Photo: Brian Holcombe

It’s a world-wide web at UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling.

Midway through the team’s training camp in Westlake Village, California, Rory Sutherland talked about getting to know his new teammates.

“You don’t know that much until you get everybody racing together. We’ve got 17 riders. To get everyone together like we are here at camp is great,” said the three-time National Racing Calendar individual champion. “It always takes time to break through and get to know the guys properly.”

Last year’s rivals can be this year’s roommates. For example, in 2010, Sutherland faced off with Davide Frattini when the Italian jumped onto his late race move in the second stage of the San Dimas Stage Race (the Aussie took the stage). This season, the two are teammates.

“Davide and Chris Jones coming from Team Type 1 are great people and have become my fiends off the bike and on the bike… They’re good guys and good riders,” said Sutherland.

A decade ago, Frattini was an espoir and Baby Giro winner and Mapei’s young Finnish Brit, Charly Wegelius, was a regular training partner in Varese, Italy.

“Charly’s a fantastic, fun guy who, when it’s time to be serious, he’s serious,” said Sutherland. “It adds a great, happy feel to the team.”

At the same time, Sutherland was an espoir with the Rabobank Continental team, arguably the top development program in the world at the time. Dutchman Boy Van Poppel joins UHC this season from that same Rabobank squad, two and a half years after he broke through with a Tour of Missouri stage win over, among others, Symmetrics’ Andrew Pinfold.

When Symmetrics folded that fall, Pinfold joined Momentum Sports, the management team behind UHC. Pinfold’s teammate Christian Meier went to Garmin, where he jumped into a full ProTour schedule. Meier and Pinfold team up again this season — and head to the continent — as UnitedHealthcare takes the step up to Pro Continental registration.

“When we’re looking at riders to hire, it’s not just about their performances or if they’ve been on RadioShack or Columbia,” said Sutherland. “It’s talking to references about how they are as people and how they fit into the mold.”

U.S. national time trial medalist Scott Zwizanski is another new addition in 2011 and is one of two riders to show on the podium for the team in January, taking third in the time trial at the Tour de San Luis. It was Zwizanski on the losing end of a late Sutherland attack in the Stillwater Criterium at the Nature Valley Grand Prix last year. In a repeat of 2009, Sutherland pulled the final leader’s jersey off of Zwizanski’s back, taking the overall by a mere six seconds.

The other UHC rider to find the podium this season? The team’s only real wildcard: Robert Förster. The Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España stage winner won a stage and earned two thirds and a second at the 2.HC Tour de Langkawi last month.

Förster comes to the team with new director Vittorio Algeri from Milram.

“Maybe we need an all-out drinking night to get to know everyone,” said Sutherland. “The more we spend time together, the more we’ll grow those relationships and see how things click.”