Australian team adjusting to life racing with WorldTour outfits
For the Melbourne-based African Wildlife Safaris team, February 2014 was marked on the calendar as the most special month of the year. Having successfully applied for a UCI Continental licence, the team could race the Jayco Herald Sun Tour which had also been elevated up a level in the UCI hierarchy.
At the Australian road national champions in Ballarat during early January, the team was seen animating both the U23 and men's road races and young talent Rhys Gillett capped off the week by taking home the elite KOM jersey.
On Stage 1 at the Herald Sun Tour the team was quick to make itself visible as Nathan Elliot made it into the day's break. The day's main climb was Elliot's undoing as he lost contact with his two companions but his move was a sign of intent and what to expect from the team.
"We didn't have a specific rider that we wanted to get into the break away, every guy had the job of being aggressive and just trying animate the race seeing if we could make something out of our situation," sports director Joel Pearson told Cyclingnews.
"Rhys [Gillett] and Shaun [O'Callaghan] both had a go before Nathan but it was just Nathan's move that struck so it's the luck of draw sometimes."
The team let the peloton know once again on Stage 2 that they aren't going to be awestruck and sit back to enjoy the high quality racing as Gillett made his way into the break and picked up second place on the first KOM of the day. Pearson said prior to the stage that the goal for the day was to target the break again and for consecutive days, they pulled it off.
"It's a bit intimidating for them racing along alongside the likes of Simon Gerrans but they're loving it. It's a great thrill to be racing riders of this calibre and they're going to make the most of the tour defiantly," Pearson said.
Leading into Stage 2 the team was well placed on the general classification which forced a change in tactics. "We have two riders who are pretty good climbers and really suited to the course and their high up on gc so we'll try to protect them as much as possible. If that means getting into the break to take the pressure of them, then we'll be trying that from when the flag drops."
As expected it was on the slopes of Mt Alexander that the race came alive. Person stated that he could "100% guarantee" something was going to happen on the climb explaining that "it's quite flat afterwards and wind affected and it's easy for a big team to split the team early in the race but they have to control for the rest of the race.
"It's not very long for them to keep having to ride to maintain a gap so I'm sure there will be fireworks on the climb." Garmin found out that trying to chase the three leaders of Simon Clarke, Cameron Wurf and Jack Haig almost on their own was too hard with just six men teams and the move made on the climb stuck
The heat on day's stage was testing for everyone as Pearson explained. "We managed to get a fair bit of ice to put down their neck but it was hard on everyone."
Gillett made the break but as Pearson told Cyclingnews, it was a day of learning what its like racing at a higher level.
"Just through a little bit of inexperience Rhys did a little bit too much work in that bunch, Simon Clarke and whoever else sitting on doing nothing for the whole stage and giving it a red hot crack up Mt Alexander and that was Rhys' misfortune.
"Jeremy Cameron showed he's got some class after only being a serious bike rider for just over a year now and he's showing that he can do something in terms of being a good climber."
The experience and knowledge that will come from racing the Herald Sun Tour alongside WorldTour teams isn't lost on Pearson and was a reason why the team applied for their Continental licence, however, the team have been introduced to some new tactics on the road.
"A few of our guys said they've never been in a bike race where there was such a hierarchy with every team lined out and if you're not in that group your destined to sit out the back," said Pearson who is enjoying the race in the comfort of an Audi Q5 for the week.
"It's a great learning curve for our young bike riders, it's really good," team manager Steven Waite said.