New team; new year. Matthew Lloyd made a triumphant return to racing with Lampre-ISD on Sunday at the Mars Cycling Australia Road National Championships. Or perhaps it was better said by the man himself, in case there was any doubt.
"I'm back... Back in the 'hood," Lloyd told the gathered press having collected his silver medal, finishing as runner-up, two seconds behind Simon Gerrans (GreenEdge). The 28-year-old was busting out the jokes and there was no hiding his satisfaction.
"It's incredible," he said reflecting on the result. "I haven't actually felt better in cycling for as far as I can remember. Purely because my ambition for the day was to put the numbers back on and rejoin the professional ranks and having won the race before and knowing the characteristics, it was all kind of irrelevant once I was on the start line. The key factor for me was the involvement and feeling that I was doing what I love. Maybe that's reflected in the results," Lloyd suggested.
If Gerrans' GreenEdge team had the most numbers in the race, with 16 starters, then Lloyd was the antithesis of that with he being the soul rider from Lampre-ISD among the 140-odd that lined up for the 163.2 kilometre battle of attrition that saw around 25 per cent of the field dropped on the opening climb. With one lap remaining of the 10.1 kilometre circuit around Buninyong, Lloyd was part of a select group left chasing the green and gold bands for 2012, with some of the biggest names of Australian cycling eyeing the prize including Richie Porte, Chris Sutton, Mathew Hayman, Michael Rogers (Sky), Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol), Baden Cooke (GreenEdge) and Luke Roberts (Saxo Bank).
Rewind 12 months ago and Lloyd was at home in Melbourne recovering having been hit by a car in St Kilda during a training ride. The result was a broken right rotator cuff and damage to his upper vertebrae. At the time, he said he had hoped that the ligaments and muscles were intact – but fate would have it that they weren't.
In February, he was struck again by a vehicle, this time injuring his knee. Lloyd then got through all but the final stage time trial of Pais Vasco, "it was painful but nothing dramatic," Lloyd recalled of the event from the first week in April. It was the last race he would partake in prior to his sacking by Omega Pharma-Lotto, the team he'd ridden with since 2007.
"We wish to inform you that the collaboration between Matthew Lloyd and the Omega Pharma-Lotto team is discontinued," the team said in a statement on its website on April 14.
"Recent incidents during the first races disputed in 2011 by Matthew for our team made this collaboration impossible. Our team's image cannot be connected to Matthew's behaviour any more, therefore the unanimous decision taken by the BCC board of directors. We follow a policy of zero tolerance of which we cannot divert."
The team was clear that the Australian's dismissal had nothing to do with "the use of forbidden products" but it wasn't until November that it was announced that Lloyd had found a new team for 2012 – Lampre-ISD – the first athlete from his country to do so with the Italian outfit.
Lloyd's last "big ride" was on the Wednesday prior to Sunday's Australian Championship. He knew he was missing the intensity that racing brings that training never can and around 100 kilometres, or 10 laps into the day, Lloyd said he "felt better."
It was as if 2012 had gotten off to the perfect start. Lloyd was working from a blank canvas.
"You know that the injuries are gone and any characteristics that you were considering to be problematic last year don't exist anymore," Lloyd explained. "I think that always shows through the way that you go about your business and the way that you race and the way you communicate. And that's starting to just be the way that it always has been for me and I don't feel uncomfortable about it.
"I feel great and there's an easy way to display that and that's always having great bike races and enjoying the company from you guys," he said, smiling at the assembled media.