Brute strength: Garmin Slipstream's Chris Sutton has been too strong so far with a hat-trick of stages on the tour.
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British ProTour squad a suitable home for Aussie all-rounder
Genetics counts for a lot in the world of professional cycling. With a world champion father and uncle, Australian all-rounder Chris Sutton is living proof of this fact. And as he prepares to move to Team Sky next season, the family ties just got a lot stronger for the 25-year-old from Sydney's southern beaches.
It could be argued that those same family ties and Sutton's signing for the British were always meant to happen - his uncle, former professional rider Shane Sutton, is Great Britain's high performance manager and coaches his nephew, who will also be wearing the red, white and blue next season.
Not that the younger Sutton sees himself as anything but an Australian. His father, Gary, is the national women's track endurance coach and one of Australian cycling's stalwarts, his firm handshake and unflappable character always welcome at track meetings round the world.
Chris has represented Australia at Under 23 and senior elite level, something he's keen to continue doing in the future, despite 'working for the enemy', as some may see it. There's another Australian connection, however - that of former professional rider and CSC directeur sportif, Scott Sunderland, with whom Sutton has had most contact during his move to Team Sky.
The man who guided countryman Stuart O'Grady to Paris-Roubaix glory in 2007, now in his new role as a Team Sky directeur sportif, was instrumental in bringing Sutton to the British setup earlier this year, as Sutton explains. "They started talking to me during the Tour," begins Sutton. "I've had a lot of second placings this year and they've looked at that fact. Scott Sunderland was pushing for me a lot plus there's my uncle Shane and I know [Team Sky manager] Dave Brailsford as well."
His list of second placings is indeed lengthy. Second in two stages of the Tour de Langkawi, one at the Bayern Rundfahrt, the Tour de Pologne, Tour of Britain and the Herald Sun Tour. His consistency has been more pronounced in 2009 and it's this aspect that undoubtedly helped clinch him a place on Team Sky's roster for 2010.
Sutton rightly dismisses any potential claims of nepotism - his results and continued development in 2009 have done the talking at contract negotiation time. "Obviously it does help that Shane is involved a little bit and he's my uncle; if I was a crappy bike rider, I wouldn't be going there, however," he says. "The stage win I had at the Tour of Britain, the second on general classification there and then what I did at the Herald Sun Tour... I've stepped it up this year," he says.
The former Cofidis rider, who has plied his trade with Garmin-Slipstream during 2008 and '09, is excited by the prospect of working with Sunderland, in particular the Classics, where Sutton knows he can play a role in securing some early results for one of the newest ProTour teams in the business.
"We've signed some good riders... some of the guys we've got for the Classics is incredible and I'm really looking forward to working with them," says Sutton - and for good reason. He'll be riding with the likes of Edvald Boasson Hagen, Juan Antonio Flecha, Thomas Lövkvist and countryman Simon Gerrans.
The cumulative talent and experience of these campaigners, who have grand tour stage wins, Classics top 10 placings and semi-classics wins between them will undoubtedly help Sutton further in his progression as a professional. It all adds up to a wise change of teams, according to Sutton himself.
With the rise of Tyler Farrar to Classics and grand tour stage winner this year and the possibility he would continue as a lead out man, Sutton was keen to make the most of his youth whilst hoping to gain that chance to ride for results that comes as a consequence of increasing experience in the pro peloton. It's only natural he should be taking that type of step, he admits.
"A lot of people may say it's the wrong move for me, but I believe it's going to be the right choice," says Sutton. "Two years ago, going to Garmin was the best move I could have made to improve and I've done that. At the end of the day I want to get my name out there as someone who's not just a pure sprinter, although I can sprint and I've won races that way. I led Tyler out in Hamburg and Eneco, and we got four or five wins there. I want to get a chance to do my own thing as well," he adds.
But Sutton knows better than to believe everything people tell him, particularly if it's a voice doubting his ability. He says that he takes in the right advice and like his father and uncle, he's a tough nut to crack. He has used this to his advantage in forging his pro career and rightly allows himself to aim high - it's this trait that has attracted teams to him since riding for the Australian U23 setup earlier this decade.
"It's still the dream to ride the Tour de France," says Sutton. "In a way I'm living my childhood dream riding professionally in Europe; the other dream is to ride the Tour de France and to obviously win a stage. Some people may say that for me to have the yellow jersey for a day or two is out of reach, but I thought turning professional was out of my reach...
"You don't think it can happen but when you put in all the hard work and now I look back at what I've done, I think to myself, 'How did I used to do that?' Trying to work and train full time as a bike rider - I look back and think about how much sleep I actually used to get; if I tried to do that now I'd be a wreck!"
Part of this includes listening to advice in training, which is where Sutton's uncle has been valuable. During the season he altered his training, and according to Sutton, "Over a period of three weeks I had 40-watt increase in the efforts I was doing. I was like, 'Far out'... I couldn't believe it," he says.
I was doing those efforts towards the end of August and in September, before the Tour of Britain," he adds. "I had that 40-watt increase over a four-to five-minute effort and obviously it showed at the Tour of Britain."
Power increases are all well and good, but another factor working in Sutton's favour was his longevity during the season, as he explains. "I was one of the only guys who started my season on January 11 [Australian national road race championship] and finished at the Herald Sun Tour," he says.
"I think the last race [for the European riders] was Lombardia, which was on the 17th. There was only myself and Trent Lowe who rode for that long... JD [Julian Dean] started January 11 but he's a hard nut - he rode all three grand tours, and finished all three, which is huge. That's 63 days of racing right there. I'm pretty sure he was fried and crossed up at the end of the Vuelta," he adds, with a chuckle.
While it may be a few years before Sutton can match the experienced New Zealander's stamina in a season, Team Sky's management will be hoping they can get plenty of mileage from their Australian all-rounder, and he's confident the relationship between rider and team will allow for that. "They believe in me, they believe I can go the next two steps," says Sutton.
Sutton on Wiggins
Chris Sutton and Bradley Wiggins have shared a team in 2009, and they also share a track background. The two riders are friends and the Australian speaks highly of his British teammate, who beat him to the Herald Sun Tour title earlier this month.
"The way Bradley's going at the moment - everyone will agree he's worth four or five men in a lead-out. He's just incredible, it just blows people away how good he is and how strong he is.
"What people have to remember with Brad is that he's never really concentrated on the road before - he's been full time as a professional on the road but it's always been part time because he's flicking back between the track and the road.
"After the last Olympics, everything is on the road for him. He doesn't do anything on the track unless it's a Revolution series event in the UK or whatever. It's really just an appearance because of what he's done at the last two Olympics.
"He did what he did this year, especially in the Tour, because it's the first time he's actually really concentrated on it. Everyone knew he was capable of doing something spectacular on the road but he was always doing track as well [in the past]. He's so talented, it's not funny."
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