Tour of California Preview: United Healthcare presented by Maxxis

Rory Sutherland (left) and team director Gord Fraser (right) will be hunting for an important stage win at this year's Tour of California.

Rory Sutherland (left) and team director Gord Fraser (right) will be hunting for an important stage win at this year's Tour of California.

The United Healthcare presented by Maxxis pro cycling team arises from an organization that has been in the pro peloton since 2003, most recently operating as the OUCH pro cycling team in 2009.

In 2010, the team brings a solid lineup of seasoned veterans, with seven riders returning from the OUCH team giving United Healthcare a deep roster of riders it can draw on in the hunt for stage wins and an improved GC placing at this year’s Tour of California.

Directeur sportif Mike Tamayo has expressed his team’s desire to get a stage win at this year’s tour. The organization has been hunting for a stage win for several years, coming close several times but never getting the elusive top spot on a Tour of California podium. If UHC wants to prove itself as a dominant domestic and competitive international squad, at least one solid performance in California this year will be crucial.

The team’s best bet for a stage win is perhaps in Rory Sutherland, who landed just off the podium in fourth of last year’s Queen’s stage; stage eight from Rancho Bernardo to Escondido, arguably the toughest stage of last year’s tour. Sutherland came even closer in 2008, taking a second place finish on stage seven.

Sutherland is a strong climber and breakaway rider, and this is most likely where UHC will shine. The team has a strong sprinting line-up, but it’s probably not good enough to get a win against the likes of Cavendish and Boonen in this year’s sprinting stages.

California also holds big potential for Dutch rider Marc de Marr, a new addition to the UHC team after riding for Rabobank’s pro squad since 2006. Marr and Sutherland were teammates in 2004 on the Rabobank continental team, and are reunited this year under the UHC flag. 2009 was a tough year for Maar, plagued by injury and bad luck, but a new year and a new team offer him lots of opportunity for good performances in 2010, something the team and Maar both desperately need.

With a support squad that could include Tim Johnson, Chris Baldwin, and sprinters Karl Menzies and Andrew Pinfold, this notoriously well organized squad will undoubtedly try for another stage win this year, so watch for the UHC train to appear on the front in support of Sutherland and Maar.

Sutherland had the highest GC placing of returning riders at last year’s tour at 34th, but look for him to move up this year, as his performance last year may have been somewhat limited while working for then teammate Floyd Landis, who the team was able to place 23rd, their highest GC placing last year. However, the team knows that they will have trouble competing in the GC competition, and UHC’s focus will stay on stage wins at the 2010 Tour of California.

United Healthcare will have to choose stages carefully, but a strong roster of well-organized riders gives them good potential to find a win somewhere along the route. As a team applauded for its domestic road racing consistency and power, UHC needs a stage win at this year’s Tour of California if they want to take their organization to the next level on the international stage.

Related: Tour of California Preview: Team Rabobank

Related: Tour of California Preview: Team Bissell

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