by Aaron S. Lee
U.S.-based Rally Cycling has found itself challenging the world’s best in its debut as a UCI professional continental in outfit. The longtime North American continental squad has spent the past two weeks racing the UAE—first the Dubai Tour (UCI 2.HC) and then Tour of Oman (2.HC).
Mixing it up with the big boys is something that team sports director Eric Wohlberg says is all part of the plan.
“We wanted to come here and show that we are worthy of the invite to get into these events,” the three time Canadian Olympian and 1998 Commonwealth Games gold medallist told Canadian Cycling Magazine. “So the guys have really been stepping up and performing out there — we are not afraid to race.
“These are our first races of 2018,” he continued. “We came off a pretty big training camp that was very productive. Unfortunately we arrived a little late and not 100 per cent, which is not ideal, but they recovered from the flights and our staff has been absolutely wonderful getting the guys ready to go.
“We are really happy with how the whole program has worked so far.”
Rally animated the race in Dubai early on with several key showings, including 28-year-old American sprinter Eric Young muscling to an impressive seventh-place finish in the opening stage of Dubai among the planet’s best sprinters. Young was only bested by the likes of Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis, Solutions Crédits), European champion Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Team Emirates), Olympic omnium champion and eventual race winner Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors), and Tour de France stage winner Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) to name a few.
Other elites of note who found themselves in Young’s rear view was Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida), John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), 2011 world champion Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and returning back-to-back Dubai Tour winner Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin).
“It’s been really, really good so far,” Young said. “I’ve been trying to get up there in the sprints. It’s challenging. These are the best guys in the world, so it’s been a really good experience for everybody on the team.
“I don’t think we could have hoped, realistically, do much better than we’ve done so far in our first races, so it’s a really good start, its great for Rally, the team, the program and bodes well for the growth of our team going forward.”
Another standout showing included a gutsy performance on the penultimate queen stage in Dubai, as Young’s 19-year-old teammate and fellow countryman Brandon McNulty found himself last man standing following a 150-km six-man break before bravely succumbing in the final 50 m of the uphill finish at Hatta Dam.
“It was equal parts heartbreaking and exhilarating,” said Young. “But in the end it was really, really cool to watch because he was so, so close. It won’t be the last time Brandon will get his opportunity this season for sure.”
Young and McNulty are just two of the cogs in Rally’s evolutionary wheel. The team has also brought back a familiar name into the fold.
Grand Tour veteran Ryan Anderson returns after two years with French pro conti team Direct Énergie. Prior to his time abroad, the 30 year old spent three seasons with Rally’s previous incarnation as Optum presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies where he recorded multiple stage wins at Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, Tour of the Gila and Tour de Korea.
“Our history has been a 100 per cent North American roster,” said Wohlberg, whose team is composed of 11 U.S. riders, including former Team Sky cyclist Danny Pate, as well as five Canadians — Rob Britton, Matteo Dal-Cin, Adam De Vos, Nigel Ellsay and Anderson.
“So finding good Euro guys to come back into the fold has been a little bit hard — especially if you want to stay with North Americans for now.
“Danny Pate has been filling a very important role too, so if we can attract more of those guys back into our program and they have the confidence in our team — as we are on an upward trajectory — it’s an easy fit.
“As for Ryan, he brings a wealth of experience, has a history with the team and is an invaluable road captain for sure,” he explained further. “Ryan is still a really punchy rider that can get over the climb and feature in select sprints. That’s a role that he is going to fill 100 per cent.”
While Rally is busy in the Middle East, Anderson captained a second unit in Europe with races at Clasica de Almeria and Vuelta a Andalucía (Ruta del Sol).
“We need to show the other teams and organizations that we are willing to put it out there and if you bring us to the race we are going to put on a show,” Wohlberg said. “We are going to keep representing our sponsors very well and of course our bread and butter is racing in the U.S., so we still have to focus on that but we are using these races to help hone our skills to perform better back home.”
Aaron S. Lee (@aaronshanelee) is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to Canadian Cycling Magazine.