After two seasons in the WorldTour with Team Sky, Nathan Earle will ride in the red colours of Drapac Pro Cycling next season. The 27-year-old Australian was based in France for his Sky sojourn but has returned home to Hobart, Tasmania where he will be based for the upcoming season with the domestic summer of cycling his first goals with the Pro-Continental team.
Earle spoke to Cyclingnews from Hobart, describing how his time with Sky has made him a better and stronger rider, his ambitions with Drapac and the importance of balance in his professional and personal life.
Cyclingnews: How do you look back on your two years in the WorldTour with Team Sky?
Nathan Earle: I had a good two years. I don't regret anything and I don't look back on it in a bad way at all. It probably wasn't exactly what I expected as far as having a chance here and there to do something. Looking at it now, it's probably a bit silly to expect something else than playing a domestique role. As far as the two years go, riding for a team like Sky, no matter what role you're playing, it was a really special and exciting two years.
I learnt a lot and got to hang out with some of the best guys in the sport. I am a hell of a lot stronger than before it as well. I got to race some really cool races and obviously being on Sky, there is no expense spared there and it was a great opportunity and experience to have.
Even though I have a contract next year with Drapac, I am still looking forward to getting back on the bike and wearing Sky kit to the end of the year. It's nice being back home and going training with some of the guys here as well and to rock up to a few of the local races and they get a kick out it. It makes me happy as well. I remember when I was younger and you'd look up to someone who might have been on a team, I used to do triathlons so I looked up to people in that sport and always thought they were awesome, so it's nice to know that some of the young kids might be feeling the same way with me in the Sky kit.
CN: Looking back, do you feel that Sky was the best team and environment for you to join at the time?
NE: At the time I did and obviously being presented with that opportunity, you're crazy in a way to say no. Maybe I would have said no if I thought I wasn't ready for that but at the same time I wouldn't have been in that same position to go to that that team if I didn't think I was ready. I think in terms of being ready to go to that level, I certainly was ready but as far as progressing my career results wise, maybe a smaller team would have been a better option. But I certainly wouldn't change anything. I learnt more than I could have hoped for if I was on a small team winning small races again. Riding these big races and getting flogged, whether it's doing a job or whatever it was, I've learnt a lot from it and it's character building stuff. To be in the pro peloton amongst those guys, you learn so much even if it's just by observing how things are done.
It was definitely a good move and with the outcome now, maybe if I was talking to you and I didn't have a team then I might have a different attitude, but I am really happy with where I am next year with Drapac and that makes the last two years seem even more positive. My options in 2013 for a where I went in 2014, WorldTour rides where very limited, so it's not like a had an abundance of choice to be honest. I didn't choose Sky over a whole bunch of other potential teams. I look back at it as a real positive and happy that I made that decision and went down that path.
CN: When did you know that your contract wasn't going to be renewed?
NE: Later in the season but I had a bit of a feeling throughout the year to be honest that I probably wasn't going to be hanging around. It wasn't by any negativity at all; you sort of get a feel for it with other riders and how they are going with contracts, what's happening with other teams. Riders that are above you in ability and wage, you see them struggling with contracts and you thinking 'hang on, if that's happening then it's not looking good for me'. New signings were coming in as well. Results wise, ok I did a great job and always had feedback that my work was great, but I didn't land anything results wise to speak of. All of that together had me thinking that I was going to be on my way.
CN: Personally what did you need and want from a team when you were negotiating for a new contract?
NE: Exciting as it sounds, a job for starters. Number one, I was looking for teams that were interesting in taking me. From then on, you get an idea of your options. One thing that being on Sky taught me was having balance in life. It's different for everyone but this is my example and some people can relate to it. For me, getting a balance in my entire life was important and I found that maybe my performances was suffering a little bit because I had lifestyle factors, family that was out of balance and I found that was really impacting on my ability to train and general wellbeing.
So I was looking for a balance that allows me to see my wife, see my friends but also commit to training and having a good environment. When the offer from Drapac came in, it all seemed to make sense. It's a pretty unique opportunity to be able to live at home in Australia and still race on a Pro-Continental team. If you said a couple of years ago that 'I want to live in Australia but ride internationally and race on a professional continental team', people would laugh at you and say you can't do that. I think for that option to exist is quite rare and it won't always be around as well. Being able to live with my wife and still do the racing and get the exposure I want was important as well.
I am happier, my wife is happier and I think that's really going to reflect in my performance as a whole. At this points in time, it would be silly to take an offer from a Pro-Conti team in Europe when I have the same offer to live in Australia. Everyone knows Drapac and they are just getting bigger and better plus I have a few friends on the team and they have some great things to say about the team. I've always kept an eye on their progress and results and I actually saw them a lot racing with Sky at Cadel Evans' race, Tour of California, Canada, Italy…
CN: Was having two other Tasmanians on the roster, Will Clarke and Bernie Sulzberger, a contributing factor when signing with the team?
NE: That's not the deciding factor but it certainly makes it a nicer place to go. There are some familiar faces and those boys have been on the team a little while and hearing what they had to say and seeing how they go confirmed my suspicion it's a great place to go. It's nice to have some Tasmanian training partners as well. I often see them at club races and always go up to Will's place in November for base training and now we are teammates.
I think the last time I was teammates with Will was 2010, 2009 so it will be nice to be teammates with him again. We've kept up a friendship over the last couple of years so it will be nice to ride with him again.
CN: What are your early season goals with Drapac?
NE: I don't have a race program confirmed yet. That probably won't be confirmed until December. We have a training camp in December in Bright so I guess we'll get a lot more information there. At this stage my first goal is nationals, which has always been an important one for me to do well on. I find that when I'm going well at nationals I can carry that on in the early par of the season and then being on a Australian team it will be even more important to have to the national jersey in the team. I think that would be a pretty cool way to kick off the year with Drapac.
Then I am hoping to get into Tour Down Under and Sun Tour, which are my other goals for now.
CN: How hungry are you to be winning races again?
NE: I feel like to need to prove to people that I can still win and more importantly, prove to myself that I can still win as it's been a while since I put my hands in the air so I hopefully I remember how to do that. I am really excited to get back into the winning side of things and I have every confidence in myself that I can be better than what I was in 2013. There's no reason why I shouldn't be better. I have a lot more strength since then but there's also a lot of talent that has come up since then.
CN: When we spoke a year ago, you said that you were a 'one-day classic kind of rider', so will your focus be one-day races more than stage races next season?
NE: I still think that I am that sort of rider, I am no high mountains kind of climber but I think my climbing will improve going to Drapac and being in more of a GC position where I don't have to do the riding on the front. I can save myself for the final climb. Racing that style will help me train that little bit more as well so I think I have more of that climbing ability next season than the last few years and play a GC role in the smaller sort of races.
My characteristics have always been suited a small bunch finish or uphill sprint finish in a small select group and obviously uphill finishes as well. Something like the nationals style course and one-day racing as well. I should be similar to but then also get back to what I was in 2013 and even better than that.
I think I am able to win as well as help others win. In 2013 I didn't quite have that horsepower to help a lead-out train or something like that so I think I have a lot to offer. Whether it's winning or helping, next year and I hope to do both to be honest. I don't want to be just carted around, it would be nice to have balance. If you can win and help guys when then that helps you settle into a team as well. a rider like that is highly valued.
CN: Do you think doing the full Australian calendar of nationals, Tour Down Under, Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and the Sun Tour will give you an idea of your strengths with Drapac and then which races you'll target for 2016?
NE: Yeah I think definitely it's a pretty good stint of racing all in Australia, which is great. You have the national championships, a one-day style race with the WorldTour teams, a WorldTour race and then Sun Tour. It's a pretty fantastic mix of racing at the start of the year. It's awesome.
I think it will provide great information for the rest of the year, where I am at. Maybe I am really happy with where I am then or maybe it's taking me a little longer to get back to my old self so either way it's going to provide important feedback for myself and the team for the rest of the year and get an idea of how I slot into the team.