Mark O’Brien is riding a wave of success after winning the first three rounds of the Australian National Series. He’s shown in each tour - Mersey Valley, Toowoomba and North Western - that he’s the man to beat when the course head upwards and his Budget Forklifts team has been more than capable in supporting their team leader. It’s a fantastic run of results which O’Brien believes is largely due to his return to Australia.
"I’m supper happy being with my friends, family and girlfriend, I can do whatever training I want and when I want because I know all the roads. It’s much easier on the head when you’re not away from everyone," he told Cyclingnews.
"I’m definitely riding at a higher level than last year. Last year I had a pretty mediocre season to say the least, nothing really clicked all year but this year I’ve lost a little bit more weight, maintained the same power and the main thing is just happiness and confidence."
O’Brien attributes much of this season’s success to his Budget Forklifts team which, since late last year has really stepped up to a level necessary to rival the best teams in the NRS. The team recruited new riders and focussed on developing a winning mentality within.
"I think they’ve achieved this, we’re all really good mates and we’ve had some team camps which is great. But it’s just that general belief within the team that we can be winning, we can be good enough. There are 12 other guys and all of them are incredibly strong but as I was saying I’ve had the strength in past years and people wouldn’t look at me and go 'he’s going to winning this race'.
"I think now the team is finally getting the opportunities with these different races that aren’t just flat like many of the Scody Cups - they are getting the chance to show themselves on other terrain.
The first three rounds of the NRS featured at least one selective stage but now the flatter, criterium-heavy Scody Cup’s begin and O’Brien won’t be the only rider in the squad looking for results. There’s more than a few teammates who can deliver results at the upcoming Tour of Gippsland according to O'Brien.
"There are probably five or six guys who are really quick with Luke Davison, Sam Witmitz, Luke Ockerby, Ryan Macanally and Peter Loft. Any of them could win a stage but you look at Gippsland last year, it was quite flat but Michael Cupitt from our team finished third overall just from putting himself in the right breakaway."
O’Brien understands the format of the Scody Cup and with sprint bonuses playing an important role in the overall classification he’ll be supporting the team’s sprinters while seeking out his own opportunities in the more difficult road stages.
"It could be a sprint everyday or the right breakaway might win on a couple of days. We’ll be going in with a few different cards to play and just see how the race plays out. I’ll be seizing my own opportunities on a hard day."
O’Brien is truly at home in the more difficult races towards the end of the year and he’ll be looking for more results in Tour of Tasmania, Grafton to Inverell and Melbourne to Warrnambool before assessing his options for 2013.
"I’ll definitely be coming out guns blazing in October for Tassie, Grafton and Warnie – my three biggest goals for the year."
"I’d love the opportunity to have a full season of racing 2.1, 1.1’s and these harder races to see where my limits lie. Because, I don’t think I’ve ever really had the full chance to see what I can do with a full season of racing. I’d love that opportunity and would jump at anything in Europe but it would have to be a very good calendar to get me away from where I am now because as I said it’s the happiest I’ve been."