The 2015 season proved to be an historic one for New Zealander Brad Evans as he first claimed victory in Australia's premier stage race, the Tour of Tasmania, then added New Zealand's oldest stage race, Tour of the Southland. Having achieved a rare Trans-Tasman double, the 23-year-old also squeezed in a stagiaire ride with Drapac at the Tour of Hainan cracking the top ten on stage 5 and helping lead out Brenton Jones to victory on the final day.
Enjoying a day of rest after his Southland victory, Evans told Cyclingnews his primary aim for the season was to make his mark on the National Road Series (NRS) and enjoy racing in Australia with Pat Veg's Racing.
"This season I really wanted to establish myself in Australia and become one of the top riders on the NRS, really get a foot hold and gain experience over there was the main goal to follow in the footsteps of few other Kiwis and other Australians that have gone onto bigger things so I thought it would be good place to start," said Evans who finished fourth on the individual NRS standings. "The racing in Australia is really aggressive and quite renowned world wide and it was quite close for me to come over from New Zealand than it was to go to Europe for example.
"It's a fantastic event and especially for us Kiwi's we really enjoy going over there and getting some big fields to race in, tougher competition and much more organised teams. The racing here in New Zealand is much smaller, it's equally aggressive but it's a different style of racing so when you go to Australia it's good to challenge yourself over there."
Joe Cooper made history by becoming the first New Zealander to claim overall NRS honours in 2014 with countryman and Avanti teammate Patrick Bevin repeating the dosage in 2015. A "a racers racer", the versatile Evans could well just make it a three peat in 2016 with stage wins in the NRS followed by Tour of Tasmania victory ensuring he will be rider to watch, and for rival teams a rider to mark, next year.
A stage win at the Tour of the Great South Coast gave Evans the sensation he was in "good form" on the eve of the Tour of Tasmania, adding that his climbing had become a "good strength of mine" and was ready to chase to stage wins and from there see what eventuated on GC.
Evans grabbed his victory on stage 2, moving into the overall lead only to lose it the next day. Evans regained the lead on the penultimate day and heading into the final stage there was a mere handful of seconds between himself and the duo of Dylan Sunderland (AMR Renault) and Ben Hill (CharterMason-Giant). Second place on the final stage ahead of Hill handed Evans the victory by just six seconds and Pat's Veg's first GC win in the NRS.
"I knew it would just come down to the last sprint basically," he said. "Ben Hill and his team weren't letting anybody get away and my team Pat's Veg rode so well, so incredibly well. It was up another level on the last stage to really contain the field and I am really thankful for all their work and help all week, especially that last stage when holding off Ben Hill and the CharterMason team. They were a strong team CharterMason and not easy to defend against and they are always attacking. It was pretty difficult but coming into the last sprint I knew I had good legs and was positioning myself well so I had a good sprint and finished it off by beating Ben."
A confident Evans told Cyclingnews that the victory "just confirmed my ability really. I was always pretty sure I could do these sorts of things but I hadn't actually raced in Australia besides on the track so I hadn't ever raced on the road in Australia before this year." When asked of the personal significance of the victory it's clear the win is an early milestone in what could be long and prosperous career.
"Looking at the winner's list of the Tour of Tasmania, it's such a prestigious list and I am very proud to add my name to that list. It's a who's who of Australian cycling that have won the tour with the likes of Richie Porte, Cadel Evans…it's fantastic to join them on the list of winners and add another New Zealander to the list is quite good as well."
The 2015 overall Tour of Tasmania podium of Dylan Sunderland (AMR Renault Racing Team), Brad Evans (Pat's Veg Cycling) and Benjamin Hill (Charter Mason Giant Racing Team) (Con Chronis / Cycling Australia)
Evans' ride saw him earn a call up for Drapac, Pat's Veg is affiliated with the Pro-Continental outfit, at the Tour of Hainan with his primary role being the second last man in Brenton Jones' lead out for the nine-day 2.HC race. A position he relished.
"I really enjoyed being part of a well-drilled team and a professional outfit all week. We were really well looked after and it was really cool to learn of really experienced guys like Graeme Brown and how to organise the lead out. It was good for myself to see how I fared at a higher level and it was good to know I able to be competitive," he said of his first outing in a peloton containing WorldTour teams.
Given freedom on stage 5 alongside Adam Phelan to chase his own results, Evans placed eighth in the bunch sprint and would eventually finish in 32nd place on GC. Five flights from the "top of the world in China to the bottom of New Zealand" across three days saw Evans arrive just one day before the Tour of Southland and left him unsure just how he'd far.
"Southland is a hugely important race and it's a difficult race to do. It's pretty much seven one-day races and it's raced supremely aggressively by all," Evans said of the race. "I was either going to go really well and come out of Hainan at an even higher level of form, or I was going to be tired and succumb to a bit of fatigue but I was glad I came through and it was the best form I had all year."
Racing with the Powernet team, his third team in three races, Evans explained he'd raced with the majority of the riders on the team, adding "It's really cool that we go away and race on different teams all over the world then come back and race Southland, slotting in like we've been racing together all year. It's really unique and we are really lucky to do that."
Evans moved into yellow at Southland, winning stage 2 just as he did in Tasmania, but he would not relinquish the yellow jersey at the longer seven-day race. Explaining his earlier experiences as the race and at the NRS event helped him hold on and secure a second big GC win for the season.
"Defending the yellow jersey is a much different task to chasing or getting it back. I certainly learnt how to defend and a few other things at Tour of Tasmania and used that during the Tour of Southland. I've done the Tour of Southland a lot of times in the past and watched how other winners have conducted themselves and learned how they've ridden the race and ridden to the win so I put of lot of those lessons into practise.
"I pretty much threw the rulebook out as well by taking the lead so early in the race, it's not what you do," he said. "Most of the teams who take the lead on the Bluff Hill stage will capitulate about two days later. I was lucky my team was very strong and towards the end of the week I was going really strong and could through off all the attacks thrown at us."
Evans added the Southland parcours is just one of the factors that ensure a challenging week of racing and noted the satisfactions of claiming the overall.
"It's one the most challenging race in the world to win I believe as you just get everything thrown at you from the weather, all types of riders have their chance to shine for the win which is unique. There is bit for everyone. You can lose five minutes on stage than gain six minutes the next day and be back in it, it's a race that's constantly being turned on its head. Its one of the most exciting races in the world to take part in and I absolutely love it."
Explaining what victory meant to a local of the South Island, Evans described the significance.
"From a personal point of view, I am a third generation cyclist as my father and grandfather both rode and raced. The Tour of Southland is the oldest running race in New Zealand and has great significant to the wider community and public," he said.
"It's the main screened event in New Zealand, it's on the national news each night, and followed widely by a lot of media so it's nice to go down there and take the win and also become the third Otago rider to take the win which is significant for my region as well. My region had the first inaugural winner back in 1956 [Kelvin Hastie, ed] so I can add my name to the illustrious list of winners. Significantly I think I am only the third rider to win Tassie and Southland in the same year which is quite something in itself."
Next up for Evans is a few weeks of rest and recovery after a busy end to the season before turning his attention to a second season racing the NRS and picking up where he left off in Tasmania.
"At this stage I'll be racing with Pat's Veg Cycling for the first half of the year and then having an extended stagiaire ride with Drapac from August onwards," Evans said of his 2016 plans starting with the New Zealand national championships in January and a likely defence of his Tour of Southland title.