UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling kicks off 2018 race season at Vuelta a San Juan
SAN JUAN, Argentina – After a successful winter training camp in Colombia, the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycing men’s team ventured south to Argentina for the 36th Vuelta a San Juan Internacional (2.1), the first team race of the 2018 season.
From January 21 to 28, the blue train took to the sun kissed roads of the “land of silver” collecting several top 10 places, including a podium appearance from Travis McCabe, who finished third on stage 6. Alex Cataford took 20th place overall, a promising start to an extensive road season ahead for the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling team.
“Overall, it was a good race,” Alexandre said. “Everyone showed they are in good form and are ready to keep training, looking toward the Belgium block.”
Stage by stage
The race kicked off with a 148.9 kilometer trip from San Juan to Pocito, featuring flat and fast roads leading up to a group sprint. The UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling team kept out of trouble in the bunch, prepping for the long week ahead.
The next day, the race left Peri Lago and traveled to Punta Negra for another 149 kilometres. This time, four climbs were on the menu, the last just 1.5 kilometres from the line. Seba Alexandre, the team’s director, said they planned to race aggressively and have representation in the break.
“It was a great day for the team,” Cataford said. “We had Carlos (Alzate) up there in the break doing a good job. At the end of the day, the team was looking after me and Travis and placed me in a great position in the lead up to the closing kilometers.”
Cataford finished in eighth place with the same time as the winner, setting him up nicely for the 14.4 kilometer time trial the next day. The puncture gods had other ideas, however, and Cataford flatted about four kilometers into the time trial.
“It was a bummer today,” Cataford said. “The roads are pretty rough here, so it’s hard to avoid, but that’s bike racing and we have to move on. Looking to the positive, we managed to do a good bike change so we’re not too far back on the GC. There’s always tomorrow.”
Another stage for the sprinters met the riders on the fourth stage – 182 kilometers from San José Jachal to Villa San Agustín. The team’s goal was to place four of its faster riders in the break because at that point, the sprint competition was still wide open.
“After 25 kms of racing, a break of seven finally happened,” Alexandre said. “The sprint leader was in it, along with Daniel Eaton from our team. It wasn’t a good situation for us. We lost the opportunity now to contest the sprint competition after the sprint leader collected all the points.”
In the wind up to the sprint, McCabe found himself in a good position, but lost it as the bunch gallop was “crazy and dangerous,” Alexandre said.
“Travis started the sprint from far behind and ended 9th or 10th in the stage. He had the legs for a top 5, but losing position made this impossible.”
The queen stage took the riders from San Martín to Alto de Colorado and ended on a testing climb at altitude.
“It was a really heavy day out there,” Cataford said. “I think we were on the pedals all day. It finished with a pretty big climb. My teammates took care of me all day, I didn’t have to touch the wind once. It was a really tough day, but a good one.”
A hot and windy day greeting the riders on the penultimate day of racing, featuring a flat 150km loop around San Juan.
“I thought about this stage as the only one for the week were break had good chances to make it to the finish because of the terrain and wind directions. Our six guys were in charge of racing aggressively and getting in the move. We had one rider in the brake every day when I have asked for it.”
It was a tough go of it to get the breakaway going, but when it finally formed, Tanner Putt, Carlos Alzate and McCabe were all present. However, the World Tour teams kept the escapees on a short leash, and with five kilometers to go, the field was just 15 seconds behind. McCabe saw his opportunity to jump on an attack from a Lotto Soudal rider, finishing with a strong third place.
Overall it was a great day for our team,” Alexandre said. “we were the only team with three guys in the break. We showed very strong riding all week and during a “classic type of day.” It’s a perfect way to see how these guys are riding thinking ahead to the Belgian racing block they will do.”
The final stage around San Juan was the last chance for the sprinters to shine. It was quite flat and fast and the plan was to protect sprinters McCabe and Alzate.
Cataford made the break of the day, which saved the rest of his teammates from doing any work at the front. Unfortunately, McCabe suffered from a stomach bug and had to drop out of the race, so it was all up to Alzate to deliver a result.
“The boys helped Carlos and in a chaotic and fast finish he was able to finish in tenth place,” Alexandre said. “It’s not a top result, but good knowing that he was one of the boys that drove the long and hard break the day before.”
Photo Credits: Ricardo Astorga