Mike Tamayo is the General Manager and Team Director of the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team. Under Tamayo’s guidance, the Team has elevated from the Continental ranks to Pro Continental status and has quickly become a force to be reckoned with in any race they enter, especially ones with a bunch sprint finish. Ever the focused leader, Tamayo leads and directs the growing 45-person operation as it races across the globe. And thanks to the assistance of his two directors, Eric Greene and Hendrik Redant, the boys in blue continue to produce great results. (Check out the Team News section at www.uhcprocyling.com).
On the eve of the squad’s return to US racing, I had the chance to sit down with Tamayo in Tampa, Florida, to gain some perspective on the Team’s early season racing efforts in Europe, South America, Asia and South Africa, as well as his outlook on the upcoming US racing calendar. Tamayo shared his thoughts and expectations for the second-year Pro Continental outfit that is now widely known as “The Blue Train” of UnitedHealthcare.
Here’s what he had to say:
Well, it’s here. We’re back in the US.
2012 marks the third season with UnitedHealthcare as our title sponsor, and it’s good to be back on home soil where we can race in front of and for such a great partner and Sponsor. After all the traveling around the world, and racing in different countries; US bike racing is dear to our hearts and second nature and we welcome the challenge to win on home soil.
We’re excited to kick off our US racing calendar in Tampa with the Cigar City Brewing Criterium & Street Festival Presented by BrightHouse Networks, also known as The Tampa Twilight Criterium.
What makes this one extra special is not only is UnitedHealthcare is a sponsor, we will have several sponsors on hand such as NEILPRYDE Bikes and Cytomax. And, before the festivities get underway with the Pro Crit Race on Saturday night, March 31, on Saturday morning we are participating in the UnitedHealthcare Fit Kids Duathlon where we will give bike helmets away to the kids and share with them the importance of living a healthy lifestyle.
That’s one of the best things about what we do. It’s not just making a difference on the bike it’s making an impact off of it as well. Our riders understand that being a professional athlete is a privilege and they recognize the importance of giving back to the community and making the lives of those they touch better, especially the kids. Sharing with the kids and helping inspire them is what matters. Many of our riders are new parents, so the message of community and kid involvement has even more meaning.
As for the season, we are now in full swing and we have good news to share with you.
This past November, we conducted an early pre-season training camp in North Carolina, where we brought in our seven new riders so they could gel with the 11 returning guys, got some good work in at the A2 Wind Tunnel in Charlotte, work with our Team Physiologist, Dr. iñigo San Millán, meet some of our new sponsors from Aegis Labs, and more.
Then in January, we held our official training camp and sponsor summit in Rancho Mirage, California, which was well attended by our sponsors. Here we enjoyed the great warm desert in order to prepare and make sure the guys were prepped for early season racing which began in Argentina with the Tour de San Luis.
Out the gate, we have enjoyed a number of successes and we are once again holding our own against the best teams and cyclists in the world. We’ve spent the past three months competing in Belgium, Singapore, Argentina, Malaysia, Italy, Portugal, and South Africa, and have scored nine podium results and more than a dozen top 10 finishes, compared to a year ago when the boys were on the podium six times in the first three months of racing.
Improvement? Absolutely. Hendrik Redant and Eric Greene, two of our Directors, have done a great job guiding the Team through some very difficult and challenging early season racing and the results are showing.
Jake Keough, Boy van Poppel, Rory Sutherland, and new arrival Jay Thomson, have been strong and all have been on the podium so far this year thanks to solid teamwork and help from their mates getting them there. Returning veteran Robert Förster continues to be a force and what is even more impressive than his consistently stellar performance on the bike is his ability to be so unselfish in the way in which he guides, mentors and helps develop our sprinters. Brad White, Karl Menzies, Jeff Louder, Chris Jones and Team Captain Jonny Clarke (who is becoming increasingly more versatile) have also been solid and working hard for the Team, keeping us close and in position to win.
Good results so far and we expect to share many more with you as the season goes on.
But none of this happens without our sponsors and partners and all have been amazing. UnitedHealthcare is there every step of the way and the confidence they’ve shown in us is tremendous. That confidence trickles down to the team in every pedal stroke and at every race. We’ve had the opportunity to work closely with our new bike sponsor, NEILPRYDE Bikes and our longtime partners with ENVE and Maxxis, both here in the US during training camp as well as overseas during the Tour of Langkawi and the OCBC Cycle Singapore Pro Criterium. Cytomax keeps us fueled (literally). Aegis Sports Testing Services has become a major sponsor this year and shares our dedication to protecting the health and ensuring the wellness of athletes of all ages and at all levels. And the rest of our sponsors have just been incredible.
As General Manager and Team Director, I can tell you that success at this level is not just measured by the results you may see. The Team has strategically picked its racing calendar around several key goals, including preparing for and excelling again at this year’s Amgen Tour of California, peaking at the right time for the right races, representing our sponsors well, and taking the necessary steps to excel in the sport. Like any sport, athletes hit peaks and valleys. Professional cycling is no different. Injuries, and illness are also a part of that and we’ve experienced both already this year. But as Directors, one of the toughest jobs we face is timing when the athlete peaks to the key events they are racing in. To that end, we have put a lot of thought and science into our season, how we select our races and which riders are chosen for those races.
Cycling is a team sport and the key to success with any team sport is finding a way to unite your athletes, especially with a host of new team members. We have been fortunate in that our new group of riders has come together quickly with the returning veterans. They all see the vision and understand our strategy. So there’s no coincidence that when you get a Team to race as a unit, wins and podium finishes follow. But more importantly, we find the necessary ingredients for success: team bonding, great morale and the motivation to race for one another.
The most important thing we are seeing is that Team UnitedHealthcare “never quit” attitude and impeccable teamwork. These guys fight for one another. They never give up. They are one team, and hold themselves and their teammates to a higher standard at all times.
Watching this Team come together the way it has throughout the past few months has been outstanding. So as we sit here in Tampa preparing for the US block of racing leading up to May’s Amgen Tour of California and through the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado this August, we want you to know that the things that are in our control are well on track. It is important to remember that professional bicycle racing is 1/3 strength, 1/3 brains and 1/3 luck.
As always, thank you for your support, confidence and belief in this Team.
We look forward to seeing you at the races!
On behalf of your UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team,
General Manager/Team Director
UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team