Having ridden as a stagiaire with Drapac in 2015 at the Tour of Hainan, Brad Evans' plan to knuckle down and complete another season in the National Road Series (NRS) with the Pat's Veg development squad before joining the Pro-Continental team later this season proved to be short lived. The New Zealander instead found himself added to Drapac's roster in early-April and duly packed his bags for Belgium where he will be based for the majority of the 2016 season.
Evans, who joins on a standard two-year neo-pro contract, made his debut proper at the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon where Movistar claimed all three stages and Alejandro Valverde rode away with the GC to welcome the 23-year-old to European racing.
"The level was certainly a lot higher and structured with Movistar riding really strong. They chased everything down and controlled the race for Valverde," Evans told Cyclingnews.
"I found it pretty hilly to some stuff I've done in the past but it was certainly a good introduction for me to get a taste of what Europe is like and the style of racing."
Evans' best result was 63rd on stage 1 to Bragança although results weren't the primary focus as he explained.
"I thought I did really well on some of the technical side of things in the race. The descents, the positioning… so I was quite happy with that," reflected Evans.
Asked if there was one specific thing he learnt from the race, Evans replied "I learnt a lot so it's hard to pin point one thing."
"In the European racing when the pace goes, it really goes really hard, really quickly and will stay hard for that last hour when there is no stopping. In the NRS you can still get a few lulls where you can recover, in the pro stuff it just keeps going. The level is certainly a lot higher and I am more prepared for that in the future," he added.
Following the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, Evans headed back to Drapac's European base to further familiarise himself with the new surrounds and take in some of the iconic roads the cycling mad country before jetting off for the Tour d'Azerbaïdjan and Tour of Iran. Evans may be a first year neo-pro but with several years of racing already under his belt in his home country and stints in the USA and Australia winning stages and tours, he isn't looking to coast along and make up numbers in the peloton.
"[I am a] first year as a professional so I'll be learning, every race will be new but at the same time, I want to get some results and I want to put my best foot forward and be as competitive as possible," he said. "I don't really like the term of just going somewhere of experience, I want to get involved and get stuck in. Whether that means I get stuck in for teammates, that means the exact same thing as riding for myself so I just have to ride smart and learn as much as I can. At the same time, I want to perform. It's a professional team so we are here to race our bikes hard."
The ambitious Evans, who won a rare Tour of New Zealand and Tour of Southland double late-last year, is looking to perform at the Tour de Korea next month before heading back to Europe for UCI 1.1 Belgian one-day races Halle Ingooigem and Grand Prix Cerami, plus events in France and Norway.
Evans will also be complementing his schedule with kermesse racing in Belgium to further familiarise himself with European racing as he aims to add his name to a growing list of New Zealand cyclists making their mark in the professional peloton.