UnitedHealthcare is emerging the winner in the transfer market for North American Pro Continental teams, announcing today a number of big acquisitions, headlined by veteran American Jason McCartney and emerging Irish talent Philip Deignan.
With the team’s roster reinforced for 2012, the squad appears headed for a place in the wildcard discussion for the sport’s biggest races, but manager Mike Tamayo told VeloNews he would continue on a path of gradual growth and only target a grand tour if it fit with the team’s business and sporting abilities.
“We’re putting our name in the hat, but we’re going to do everything right. If we’re not prepared for a grand tour, we’re not going to do it for the sake of doing it,” said Tamayo. “We never make decisions based on the day, in the heat of the moment. We have a vision for three, five, 10 years from now and in 2014 we want to be leading at forefront of changes coming in cycling.”
The announcement of five new signings this week follows the hiring of veteran Belgian director Hendrik Redant to head the team’s European operations and the return of Dutch climber Marc de Maar. Joining Deignan and McCartney at UHC are Ben Day, Jay Thomson and, as reported Wednesday by VeloNews, Jeff Louder.
McCartney brings top-tier experience, including his place in the 2004 Olympic team and a 2007 Vuelta a España stage win, to UnitedHealthcare. He was a key member of Chris Horner’s Amgen Tour of California-winning RadioShack squad in May.
“Jason’s experience and toughness are the two biggest things he brings back to the team,” UHC team manager Mike Tamayo told VeloNews. “He looks at us and sees an opportunity with a team that is continuing to grow … We had talked for the 2011 season and this year we just kept in touch and the timing was right, the transition timing was right.”
McCartney rode with UHC predecessor Healthnet-Maxxis in 2004, the year he surprised at the Olympic trials and qualified for the Athens Games. He left the squad in 2005 for seven years at the sport’s top level. He rode for Discovery Channel from 2005 through 2007, Saxo Bank in 2008 and ’09 and RadioShack the last two seasons. The Iowa-raised all-rounder has served as a top domestique and is widely regarded as one of the toughest guys in the sport.
“He has tremendous horsepower and strength, and has the proven ability to ride for two men like he did with his previous team,” said Tamayo. “That’s one of his many strong suits and we’re looking forward to having him back on our team.”
Tamayo said that 38-year-old McCartney would get his own opportunities at UHC and could feature prominently in the three major U.S. tours, in California, Utah and Colorado.
“He’s a rider that’s nearing the end of his career,” said Tamayo. “You look at (George) Hincapie dropping down to BMC to help them grow and bring more talent in. McCartney is the same, on different scale.”
Deignan is a Vuelta stage winner and in 2009 placed ninth overall in the Spanish grand tour. He comes from RadioShack with McCartney and Tamayo said the Irishman would get the chances he missed riding for Johan Bruyneel’s top-heavy squad.
“He was one of the numbers at RadioShack and never had a chance to shine,” said Tamayo. “Rightfully so, riding with so many talented guys, it’s hard to get an opportunity.”
Tamayo expected Deignan to see flourish in 2012 with the squad.
“We’re a perfect launchpad to show the world he can win races as well,” said Tamayo. “We told him, ‘We don’t just want you to pull a couple of guys around all day; we want you to go out and outclimb everyone.’ We’re going to build Philip into a champion.”
The team also announced the signings of Day, Louder and Thomson.
Day, the VeloNews 2010 domestic rider of the year, went through a tough 2011 season after the Pegasus Racing program imploded, leaving him without a job in late December. Day landed at Kenda-5-hour Energy, but could not recapture his form of a year ago.
“Day’s always been interesting to us for many years racing on the domestic level against us,” said Tamayo. “We have no doubts (about his ability to return to the top level). He’s methodical and pretty well programmed as a pro. We’ll give him the tools and help to make him feel worthy as a rider again.”
Thomson, Day’s teammate at Fly V Australia in 2010, joins the squad from Bissell. The South African is a strongman in the same vein of McCartney, at home in long breakaways and working on the front of the peloton. He recently missed out on the most aggressive rider’s award in stage 1 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge to new teammate Brad White after the pair spent most of the stage in a two-man breakaway.
“As we continue to grow this team, we keep looking for selfless riders that have big engines, riders that have the capacity to ride above their own ability and essentially turn themselves inside out,” said Tamayo. “We are pleased to welcome Jay as he is going to be a solid addition to our mentality and our way of racing. He is a big engine and has a lot of power.”
UnitedHealthcare for 2012
Team Manager: Mike Tamayo
European Director: Hendrik Redant
U.S.-Asian Director: Eric Greene
Marc de Maar
Boy Van Poppel
Charly Wegelius (retired)