“We’re gonna end up on top of this Tour at some point or another.”
That was UnitedHealthcare team manager Mike Tamayo’s quote at the end of this year’s Tour of California. For the second year in a row Rory Sutherland, their top GC riders, had finished seventh.
Today, Tamayo is significantly closer to ending up on top in California, not to mention Utah and the US Pro Cycling Challenge.
The team just signed ProTeam riders Jason McCartney and Philip Deignan from RadioShack, and Jeff Louder from BMC Racing as well as domestic riders Ben Day from Kenda/5-hour Energy and Jay Thomson from Bissell.
“These kinds of riders have won races, and having them step up, we are looking forward to having new cards to play,” said Tamayo. “We welcome having more cards to play and several riders who could potentially be general classification leaders. It is my job to keep them focused and riding well together.”
Putting aside the classic “cards” analogy for a moment, it’s clear that UHC is inexorably moving up the ranks. Last year the health insurance sponsor funded a major increase in budget and a license upgrade to Pro Continental. Then they brought in time trial legend Chris Boardman (and his beautiful matte black race bikes) to work with Sutherland in the wind tunnel.
They also increased the degree of difficulty of their race calendar, lining up at the Volta a Algarve, Settimana Internazionale di Coppi Bartali, Driesdaagse de Panne, Giro del Trentino and Vuelta a Asturias. Those races necessitated the hiring of former Omega Pharma-Lotto DS Hendrik Redant as European team director.
There are only two teams with Pro Continental licenses in the United States. UHC and Team Type 1. The stylistic contrast between the two is dramatic. Tamayo’s team is low key compared to the high profile operation run by Phil Sutherland.
The Team Type 1 owner has been aggressive is public relations, promoting his diabetes message, announcing health initiatives in Rwanda and selling his autobiography at races. It’s essentially Livestrong junior and we say that as a compliment. Any team with a mission beyond winning races is to be applauded. Still, the style differences are huge.
Having spent most of the Tour of California with UnitedHealthcare, we can say this is a well run operation and that’s part of the reason big name riders are interested to sign on, former riders are happy to return and current riders determined to stay. Tamayo is a master of logistics, the squad is hyper organized but still retains a family atmosphere left over from their humble beginnings as Healthnet and Ouch.
In fact, if there was one potential flaw in the operation it’s that the team is too damn nice. However more races in Europe is the cure for that. Something about battling in the rain in Belgium that hardens guys up.
“We liked a lot of the races that we did this year and we are looking forward to a lot of the races again next year,” said Tamayo. “We will have a stronger and deeper team and the organization will be better able to handle the curve balls that come at us at a European level. We are looking forward to season number two over in Europe.”
With McCartney and Deignan on-board, the top looks closer than ever.