By Anthony Tan
"They said: 'We're not re-signing you because we don't believe you can win ProTour races within the next two years, and therefore wouldn't be a worthwhile investment.'"
More or less, these were the words from Rabobank team management to their Australian sprinter Graeme Brown before the start of the Deutschland Tour (Tour of Germany) on August 1 this year.
"They basically didn't think I was good enough, so they didn't give me any [races] to ride," said Brown in a recent telephone interview with Cyclingnews - a few weeks after he won two stages of the aforementioned race, beating riders by the likes of Erik Zabel, Danilo Napolitano and young German sprint sensation Gerald Ciolek.
"I wasn't even going to Germany to race," Brown said, "but to my luck, one of the team got sick and they pulled me in at the last minute. So I guess that's why I'm not doing the ProTour races like these ones [referring to the ENECO Tour and Vuelta a España]... or the Tour of Poland, either."
To be fair to Rabobank, up until the Deutschland Tour, the 27 year-old New South Welshman had not notched a win for the team all year. In fact, despite turning professional for Ceramiche Panaria - Fiordo in 2002, Brown hadn't notched a win in Europe.
Brown admits the harsh words were fair words: "It's not so nice, but I have to respect the fact that they did say to me in July - which is plenty of time to get a new contract - we don't think you're up to our standards.
"So it sounds harsh, but it was good on the other hand, I've stepped up another level with a little bit of extra pressure... I had plenty of time, I've come out and just proven everybody wrong and they're reconsidering their situation," he said.
In his first stage win at the Tour of Germany, Brown told the team he'd prefer to do it by himself. However, by the final stage, the team had confidence in him, and team manager at the race, Adri Van Houwelingen, put everything on the line for Brown to win - which he did.
"Basically, at the end of the day, they need results as well, and it's a good reflection on him [Van Houwelingen] to get a result for the team," said Brown.
So why stop a sprinter on a roll by leaving him off every ProTour race roster since then, regardless of whether he was been signed next season or not?
When contacted on August 30, Brown said he hadn't raced at all since August 9 - the final day of the Deutschland Tour. "I've watched on TV eight sprint stages," he said.
A last-minute call-up to the Vuelta was on the cards when Oscar Freire relinquished his spot due to injury. But Rabobank threw in another Australian instead, neo-pro William Walker, a somewhat unusual choice for a rider who only went professional a few months prior, midway through the season.
Said Brown: "I was a bit disappointed, but they thought the start of the Vuelta was too hard. And as it turned out, there was three sprint stages [in the opening week], so... "
Proving his wins in Germany were no fluke, Brown also won the Tour de Rijke a fortnight ago. Form or fitness isn't the problem, though. The problem is he can't race.
Look out for the complete story soon on Cyclingnews.
Janez Brajkovic: Man for the future
With the Vuelta currently in the mountains for three tough days of high-altitude racing, many eyes will be focussed on the battle for the maillot oro. However those with an interest in the future of the sport will also be keeping tabs on the progress of the highly promising Slovenian rider Janez Brajkovic, who showed promising form earlier in the race. Shane Stokes caught up with the Discovery rookie.
Janez Brajkovic has been the relevation of the Vuelta, finishing second to Danilo di Luca on the first mountain stage to the Estacion de Esqui La Covatilla on day five and then later leading the Vuelta. At the time of his ride to La Covatilla he told Cyclingnews that the performance was an unexpected one. "I was actually very surprised, as for the first couple of days I didn't feel good," he said. "But yesterday my legs were starting to come around. In the first few climbs today I didn't want to push too much, but rather save as much energy as possible. The plan was to help Tom [Danielson] on the final climb. When Di Luca attacked I tried to follow…in the beginning there was a little gap which I managed to close, and then I just followed the wheel.
"Obviously Tom is our leader here," the 2004 under-23 world time trial champion continued. "That is my first priority - I don't think I am going to be capable of maintaining this kind of shape for the whole race."
Brajkovic didn't take long to make another big impression. Two days after the La Covatilla stage he went on the attack with Alexandre Vinokourov on the final ascent to the stage 7 finish of Alto de El Morredero. He ultimately finished fourth on the stage, seven seconds behind Alejandro Valverde, but crucially took over the race leadership from Di Luca.
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