United Healthcare kicked off its European race program today with opening stage of the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal.
An eight-man team consisting of Marc De Maar, Philip Deignan, Chris Jones, Jeff Louder, Jason McCartney, Rory Sutherland, Kai Reus and Bradley White will have its sights on the GC this week according to director sportif Hendrik Redant.
“We don’t have many sprinters here because we have a team at the Tour of Langkawi which has more sprint stages going on, so we put some of our strongest guys for GC here,” said the affable Belgian at the finish in Albufeira. “I think we have a pretty strong team here that can really go for that third stage on the Alto de Malhao. I think this is a chance for guys like Sutherland and Deignan to go for that third stage and put themselves in contention for the general classification.”
As is to be expected with their first trip to Europe this year, there were the odd hiccups today for the squad on an otherwise smooth stage. “Marc De Mar got sick yesterday and had a very rough day today,” said Redant as one of the team soigneurs waited for the Curacoa champion. “I hope he’s going to be inside the time limit because he got dropped about 45km from the end. … He got stung by a bee twice yesterday and about an hour later he started throwing up and was very sick. It must be an allergic reaction because if it was the flu he would have had symptoms already. This morning he was a bit better and could start, but then it was a very hard day. We’ll see now how he feels and we’ll decide tonight if he’ll start tomorrow.”
Apart from De Maar’s allergic reaction the race got off to a low-key start for United Healthcare. “We had a bit of a problem just after the start when Kai Reus’ handlebars came loose but otherwise there were no problems,” said Redant. “The guys stayed pretty calm all day. As I said, we don’t really have a sprinter here that can beat Ciolek or someone like that so I can think we must aim for other goals.”
A few minutes later, a dishevelled looking De Maar arrived at the United Healthcare team bus, promising to keep going in the Algarve tour.
“I got an allergic reaction or something from the bee sting and got a fever and was pretty sick yesterday,” said De Maar. “I didn’t sleep too well last night so it was a rough day. I was just empty, sick, with no power. I hope I can be better tomorrow. That’s why I started today. I would have regretted it if I didn’t try.”