Optum’s Alex Candelario’s final season will be his—and his team’s—first on Diamondback’s Podium Optum bike. The 39-year-old domestic sprint ace says he’s retiring at the end of the season. Photo by Casey Gibson.
It was perhaps a bit odd, to see Diamondback—a brand more known for BMX leathers than skinsuits—take part in the team presentation for the Optum Pro Cycling squad last weekend as the official bike supplier. But given where the company’s direction, the move actually makes perfect sense.
Our Jason Sumner was impressed with last year’s Diamondback Podium line—the brand’s first real foray into high-end road bikes. And while doing many things right on the product side, DB’s savvy management knows the market demands a racing presence to bring all-important street cred to their road game, as well as to help with product development.
A quiver of Optum team bikes await the riders before a training ride. The team will race exclusively on the sub-15-pound Diamondback Podium. Photo by Casey Gibson.
“This wasn’t an easy thing for us to pull off, but we felt having a top team to help develop and prove these bikes was absolutely necessary,” said Diamondback Vice President of Sales and Marketing Phil Howe. “It makes us very proud to have these men and women represent Diamondback and reflect our values as a company.”
Optum team rider Mike “Meatball” Friedman explains how he’s integrated facial hair into his time trial position during a Q&A session. The former Olympian brings levity, fire power and mentorship to the Optum program. Photo by Don Palermini.
That team—who’s official name is Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies—has a long history on the North American racing scene and will again focus on USA Cycling’s National Racing Calendar (NRC)—a series where the men’s team finished ranked first and the women second in 2013. Having racked up 76 wins (40 men’s, 36 women’s), including a handful of US and Canadian national titles in 2013, expectations are high.
Cycling commentator Todd Gogulski talks about Optum’s expectations with Performance Director Jonas Carney. Photo by Casey Gibson.
In an intro session at Optum’s Irvine, Calif. offices Saturday, television cycling commentator Todd Gugulski moderated a Q&A session with the team, whose riders are a mix of national circuit veterans and up-and-coming talent.
On the men’s side, established riders including US national champs Tom Zirbel (time trial) and Eric Young (criterium) along with veterans Alex Candelario, Mike Friedman, Brad Huff, and Jesse Anthony ride alongside younger talent including the likes of Carter Jones, Bjørn Selander, and Ryan Anderson.
Jade, the Cheetah and a Meatball: Optum team riders Jade Wilcoxon (left) and Mike Friedman (right) bookend 1984 Olympic silver medalist Nelson Vails who was on-hand for the team presentation last Friday. The still enthusiastic Vails once rode for the Levi’s-Raleigh team that has ties to current team ownership. Photo by Don Palermini.
The women’s team should be a force in 2014 as well, returning USPRO Road National Champion Jade Wilcoxson not to mention the riders from their eighth-place World Team Time Trial Championships squad. Other standouts include Canadian national road and time trial champion Joelle Numainville, Canadian criterium champion Leah Kirchmann, and New Zealand road race champ Courteney Lowe.
Optum team riders and sponsors listen to instruction for a group ride down California’s Highway 1 during introductory festivities Saturday in Oxnard, Calif. Photo by Craig Randall.
Riding the California Coast
The team followed-up Friday’s team announcement with a sponsor and media ride down California’s famous Highway 1, starting at Mugu Rock near Oxnard, going south to Malibu and back. The casual ride gave team members and Diamondback brass a chance to ride and mingle with sponsors and media in a more casual environment.
Wilcoxon’s US national championship-liveried Diamondback Podium featured eye-catching graphics with cool details. Photo by Don Palermini.
One bike that particularly caught our eye during the ride was Wilcoxon’s US national champ-liveried Podium. The custom red, white, and blue paint scheme—along with Wilcoxon’s matching national champion team kit—makes a real statement.
National road champ Jade Wilcoxon gives a fellow cyclist a helpful push. Wilcoxen thought the woman was with one of the team sponsors, but turned out to be a local out for a ride of her own. The woman appreciated the help none-the-less. Photo by Don Palermini.
After the team camp concludes this week, riders will continue to train independently until the season kicks off in earnest with the men’s team traveling to the Vuelta Mexico stage race March 5-9.