Charlie Wegelius brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to UnitedHealthcare, but it appears that it’s Wegelius who is getting more out of the bargain.
The 32-year-old climber says he’s pleasantly surprised about how things are going with the U.S.-registered Pro Continental team so far through the opening weeks of the 2011 season.
After racing more than a decade at the top level, Wegelius couldn’t find a contract with a European-based ProTeam after his latest two-year stint at Omega Pharma-Lotto. He signed on with UnitedHealthcare, a move that he called a “silver lining to a dark cloud.”
VeloNews caught up with him recently at the Vuelta a Murcia. Here’s what he had to say:
VeloNews: How has it been for the team making its first inroads into the European racing scene so far through the spring?
Charlie Wegelius: It’s been a pretty steep learning curve for the team at the moment. The whole team is getting exposed to this new level of racing and I think everyone is learning really quickly. The whole team is making a lot of progress. This race (Vuelta a Murcia) sort of ends that first block of racing here in Europe until we pick up again at the end of March in Italy. We’re just trying to take as many positives as we can out this experience and build on that. There’s been a lot of top-10s, so hopefully we’ll continue on this curve and edge closer to some big results.
VN: You’re raced on some of the biggest teams in Europe, why did you decide to come to this team?
CW: Well, the real reason is that I couldn’t find a contract with a big ProTour team. At the end of the day, it’s turning out to be a really good experience and I am learning a lot new stuff that I didn’t know before that’s sort of refreshing me a bit. It’s a silver lining to a dark cloud.
VN: What’s been interesting or different for you about what the team is doing at UnitedHealthcare that you’ve seen so far?
CW: I think they’ve got a lot of forward-thinking ideas that teams with very much bigger budgets don’t even think about it. They think slightly differently from the traditional ways of doing things. That’s going to be an advantage when the team grows in the future.
VN: What’s your race schedule looking like over the next few months?
CW: After this, I will ride Coppi e Bartoli, Trentino, Asturias and then California.
VN: There’s really been quite a change in the peloton with so many American and Anglo teams, with teams like Sky and now the big Australian project coming online, how has it changed since you turned pro?
CW: It’s much nicer now because it was really lonely when I first started racing to find someone in the group who you could speak English with. The balance has completely changed. These young kids have it so easy, because they can just go speak to anyone. They don’t know what it’s like in the old days, when we had to learn Spanish, French or Italian. It’s much nicer these days and it’s better for the public.
VN: Has the racing changed at all with this new influx of English-speaking riders?
CW: The peripheral stuff changes a lot, but at the end of the day, it’s still 200 guys on bikes chasing each other around the countryside. You cannot change the essence of that. Even without race radios, it doesn’t really change things at all.
VN: What’s your view on the race-radio ban?
CW: I don’t think racing without race radios makes them any better. If we did have race radio, if a guy doesn’t want to use it, he doesn’t have to use it. And I think there are a lot of big issues that we should be concentrating on now instead of talking about race radios.