Interview with a Pro Bike Team: Q&A with KBS-OptumHealth

Earlier this summer, during the Nature Valley Grand Prix pro bike race series in Minnesota, we had a chance to mingle with the riders and staff from the Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth pro cycling team. The Minnesota-based squad worked hard during the event and was able to get young-gun rider Jesse Anthony on the top of the podium at the end of a week of racing. To get a behind-the-scenes look, we sent our resident bike dork, T.C. Worley, to the race sidelines with a notepad to dig up dirt on KBS-OptumHealth’s race strategies, post-race muscle recovery, bike maintenance, and must-have cycling gear for the Nature Valley Grand Prix and other events of its ilk.

Team Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth at Nature Valley Grand Prix

T.C. Worley: You guys have sponsors for your equipment, and you all ride Orbea frames, but do you get to choose what equipment goes onto your individual bikes?

Alex Candelario: Sort of. We have five different wheelsets from Mavic for racing and training. We can also choose different tires for different courses, but mostly we trust our mechanics to decide for us. Everybody uses bars from Hed and SRAM groupos.

What about specific fit items like seats? Are you allowed to at least choose your own saddle?

Candelario: Yes, we’re sponsored by Selle Italia saddles, and they have many models we can choose from.

[Gear Junkie aside: I couldn’t help but notice one rider was using a Fizik saddle!]

I’m not seeing any alloy frames or wheels on race bikes this week. Is anyone racing alloy anymore?

Marsh Cooper: Carbon is much faster. I used our deep-dish carbon wheels for the first time during the prologue this week. I couldn’t believe how much faster they were! I looked at my computer and thought, Wow! I’d say 2 or 3KM faster on the flats. [For such uses] you just can’t be competitive on alloy anymore. Mechanic Bob Gregorio: Most elite racers are on carbon frames these days.

Tell me more about deep-dish wheels. A must for time trials, it seems?

Jacob Erker (a team manager): Yes, for sure. We have three or four sets of the really deep dish Mavics (the Carbone 80s, a non-production model) that we swap from bike to bike on prologue days. It’s absolutely worth the trouble for the performance increase.

Race bike

I’ve been experimenting with electrotherapy for recovery this season and I think it is helpful. You guys are sponsored by Compex electrotherapy. Do you believe it works?

Dan Bowman: Yes, I use it a lot on long airplane rides, like to Asia. When you sit a long time, it’s a nice way to keep the legs awake. I usually only use it for recovery, not as a workout.

How soon after a hard ride do you use it?

Bowman: As soon as you can. I like to keep it within a half-hour. Alex Candelario: For long plane rides it’s nice. Tom Solanday: I used to use it a lot, but now I prefer a foam roller if I can. But I’ll use it on plane rides, too.

Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth at Nature Valley Grand Prix

I want to hear from the mechanics now. You guys are the real gear gurus of the sport. How do you decide things like which wheel and tire the riders will use on a given day?

Mechanic Bob Gregorio: Alloy wheels, or carbon wheels with alloy braking surfaces, are still best in wet conditions or for courses with a lot of steep descents. For flat courses where speeds are higher and aerodynamics is more important, we like the deep carbon fairing and spokes of the Mavic Cosmic SLR’s. For mountainous stages, we like the Mavic R-Sys, a tubular tire with an aluminum rim that is not particularly aero. The aluminum braking surface is good in both wet and dry conditions. Rarely is the clincher the tire of choice for racing. We use them primarily for training and for spares.

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Stephen Regenold

Stephen Regenold is Founder of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of five, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.