The Australian National Road Series has been a close fought battle this year with a number of teams including the Budget Forklifts squad vying for stage wins and overall tour honours. The team has proved its ability to challenge last year's dominant Genesys Wealth Advisers squad across all terrains but with Grafton to Inverell coming up this weekend, there's plenty to gain and lose at the final NRS race of the season.
Budget Forklifts will be without current NRS leader Luke Davison but the team has known he would be absent for a number of months. Team director Cameron Watt says the loss of Davison due to track commitments won't affect team tactics. The goal at every NRS round has been to win and if Davison holds on to claim the individual NRS title despite missing the race then "so be it."
"Our attitude from day one is to go into each round of the NRS aiming to win that race. This weekend is no different. We are going there to win and if we win the jersey at the end of the year then it's a bonus. We would be just as happy to see Mark O'Brien win Grafton and if Luke gets the jersey too then so be it," Watt told Cyclingnews.
"I think it's the only attitude we could have taken with the tiering of the races. I think that has lessened the title a little bit. We said we would target each race to win and coming up to the end of the year we are pretty happy with how we've gone."
"We just want to win Grafton because of how monumental it is on the calendar. To win and have that on your palmares is a massive thing."
The team will head to Grafton with a number of riders capable of winning the 228km race. O'Brien and Michael Cupitt have proved themselves at past editions and the team will be hoping one of the two can pull off a result. O'Brien is sitting in third place in the NRS standings however, he will not be able to overtake teammate Davison to win the title.
"Morale is pretty high because we have a few guys who have gone pretty close to winning this race. A few of them certainly feel like they've got unfinished business at Grafton. It's one of the big classics in Australia," said Watt.
"We've got Michael Cupitt who has performed well in Grafton over the last few years. He was really on fire early in the season in the hillier tours. With Japan Cup we saw that he's really starting to come back up into top form. He was big help to Mark at Japan so we're expecting big things from Michael."
Demonstrating the strength of the NRS
Budget Forlifts is looking to expand its racing calendar in 2013 and the prelude to next year's campaign was bolstered with the results at the recent Japan Cup. Davison finished fourth in Saturday's criterium while O'Brien was the team's best-place finisher in the tough circuit race on Sunday. Watt said he was very happy with the performance.
"I thought the boys performed really well in the crit. Just to see them represented in nearly every move. In the couple of moves they missed, the team took control to bring it back. That's a good sign for the NRS, that a move can go with a rider from Saxo Bank, Garmin and Liquigas, we send a couple of Budget Forklift riders to the front and we are able to bring it back."
"We had the goal of delivering Luke Davison to the line and we were able to do that. Luke wasn't too far off pulling out a win."
"The number one goal for Budget Forklifts is the NRS. We will do about four UCI tours in Asia but we see that more to help riders move on to the next level. We just want to give them more exposure to the bigger teams and the experience of the bigger races. The extra stress and travel will help develop these riders who are prepared to make the next step," Watt told Cyclingnews.
With the speed of Davison and the climbing ability of O'Brien there could have been numerous situations where the two rider's personal objectives clashed. That hasn't been the case says Watt who referred to the way Davison, O'Brien and the team operate.
"We planned which races would suit each rider and the two have worked tirelessly with each other throughout the year. They have both won quite a few rounds and they just take pleasure in seeing the team win as much as their own personal victories."
"We've often needed the team to defend the leader's jersey and without a strong team behind those two leaders we would not have been able to defend those leads. It sounds a bit corny but it really is all for one, one for all."
Rider development and moving forward
The success of the team this season is not without its downfalls. The impressive run has meant some riders will move on at the end of the year. However, development is also why the team has achieved so many wins. Watt called the situation "bitter sweet" but he's confident the team will be just as strong in 2013.
"It is part of our motto, it exists as a development team and our team owner invests in the team to develop riders onto the next level. We are going to lose a few riders to bigger and better things for next year but we take that as a big gauge of our success. Strangely we are stoked to be losing them to bigger and better things."