By Zack Vestal and Phillip Heckler
Whatever its name, the team variously known as HealthNet, HealthNet-Maxxis or OUCH-Maxxis has dominated the National Racing Calendar for the last six years, winning the series team title for five years straight and coming in third last year.
Now racing under the banner of UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis, the team includes some familiar faces and some new additions that should add up to a successful season.
New face of experience
New this year is Gord Fraser, a man with too many NRC wins to list, who will be serving as sports director. Team director Mike Tamayo will take on a general manager role, as he and Fraser split director sportif duties geographically. Overall, Fraser will guide the team with his knowledge of how to win.
“I think I’m a pretty competitive person; I showed that when I was racing,” said Fraser. “I’m the same type of personality behind the wheel, so hopefully that will translate into some better results.”
Tamayo sees the addition of Fraser as a “win-win.”
“Nobody else domestically knows how to win a bike race better than Gord does,” Tamayo said.
Road captain Tim Johnson said Fraser has the experience to guide the team whether it’s racing at a crit like Athens or a stage of the Tour of California.
“Gord, he’s got a great attitude where he’s able to lead by example even though he’s not on a bike,” said Johnson.
One huge change in 2009 was the decision to bring Floyd Landis onto the OUCH-Maxxis roster last year. Bringing Landis on board after his two-year suspension ended brought a lot to the team, said Tamayo.
Tamayo said Landis brought a wealth of experience from his many years on top teams, like Mercury, U.S. Postal and Phonak. In ways similar to George Hincapie’s and Cadel Evans’ boost to the BMC squad this season with their combined experience, Landis did the same for the 2009 OUCH-Maxxis squad.
“He’s done a lot of things that only a handful of people have been able to accomplish in their life,” Tamayo said.
Johnson saw Landis’ return, with his personal sponsors in tow, as a boost.
“The people and sponsors that were with him were all of a sudden with us,” Johnson said. “The team was saved because of him.”
The media attention was something the team members were not quite ready for. Tamayo described their arrival at the California tour, where the team was overwhelmed by thousands of fans waiting to catch their first glimpse of Landis.
“That made you feel like you were in a fish bowl for most of the season, looking out,” Tamayo said. “You are the fish and everyone else is just tapping on the glass.”
Although he had inked a two-year deal, Landis and the team’s management company, Momentum Sports, agreed to end the contract a year early. Landis indicated that his interests will be focused on a return to racing in Europe, but since the November announcement, he has not signed on with another team.
Aussie Rory Sutherland, a two-time individual NRC winner, is still looking to improve.
“I’d like to definitely get a little bit further in TOC,” Sutherland said. “I’ve had seconds, thirds, fourths in (stages) the last few years of doing it and I’m getting a little bit sick of standing next to someone all the time. I think every rider in the country would love to win a stage of TOC and I’m right up there wanting to do that too.”
Right up there with Sutherland is Chris Baldwin, an 11th-year pro who has been on top domestic teams like Navigators and Toyota-United.
“I’ve been second and third way too many times for the number of wins that I’ve had,” Baldwin said. “That’s just the kind of rider I was in my career and I’d love to change that, just post a couple W’s in the U.S. stage race column.” Baldwin said he is targeting races like the Tour of the Gila and the Cascade Cycling Classic.
On the larger scale, Tamayo said that the team doesn’t have any official goals just yet. He said that aiming to win the Nature Valley Grand Prix or the Athens Twilight crit would mean aiming too low.
“Realistically for us, is to pretty much go into every bike race with the mentality of racing to win. So that’s our goal,” Tamayo said.
UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis has five riders under 25, which means a lot of young guns mixed in with a lot of experienced riders.
“Gord and I spent a lot of time discussing riders – trying to figure out who is next,” Tamayo said. “We feel like there’s a changing of the guard that’s happening right now.”
Johnson sees the combination of Fraser and new riders, like Eric Barlevav and Jake Keough, along with Andrew Pinfold, being a powerful force, like the old HealthNet days of Greg Henderson and Gord Fraser.
Click here for a photo gallery from the UnitedHealthcare team camp.
• Tim Johnson
• Roman Kilun
• Karl Menzies
• Andrew Pinfold
• Rory Sutherland
• Bradley White
• Chris Baldwin (Rock Racing – half of 2009)
• Eric Barlevav (Team Mountain Khakis)
• Jonathan Clarke (Jelly Belly)
• Matt Crane (Jelly Belly)
• Marc de Maar (Rabobank)
• Adrian Hegyvary (Hagens-Berman LLP Cycling)
• Max Jenkins (Glud & Marstrand Horsens)
• Jake Keough (Kelly Benefits Strategies)