Australian's 2015 Tinkoff-Saxo team bike
Winner of the 2015 Tour Down Under
New and old kicks and lids seen at WorldTour race
Wiggle Honda team bike of two-time World Champion
THe long open road ahead of Peter Herzig and Michael Cupitt
Last year's second-place Cupitt aiming for top step at NRS round
Coming off the back of a solid showing at the inaugural Subaru National Road Series round at Battle on the Border, Budget Forklifts is planning a defence strategy for the FKG Tour of Toowoomba. Last year it was Mark O'Brien, now riding for the Raleigh team who stole the show after winning the hill-top finish to Bunya and then consolidated his overall lead with a win in the team time trial. This year Budget plan on doing it again but this time it will be O'Brien's former teammate MIchael Cupitt, who filled spot number-two on the podium in 2012, that is looking to step up.
The team walked away from last week's Battle on the Border with some promising results. The final results from the first-year men's NRS round left Budget with the green points jersey worn by Jesse Kerrison and Alex Wohler and Marc Williams pushed into the top-ten with eighth and ninth-overall respectively. The team was active throughout the four stages and showed consistency and depth by finishing fourth in the team classification.
With an entirely fresh squad in for Toowoomba and with a title to defend, perhaps without pressure, the team won't rely soley on Cupitt to fly the flag. There's a team that could ride high up into the GC standings but as the previous two rounds at the Woodside Tour de Perth and Battle on the Border have shown, overcoming the dominant force that is Huon Salmon-Genesys Wealth Advisers is going to take some strategising and aggressive racing.
"I think because they [Huon Salmon-Genesys] are so strong it is easy for them to get the lead early and defend," Cupitt told Cyclingnews. "They really know how to defend and hold onto the leader's jersey. Maybe if we can get a time gap or jump on them early - we've got a strong team here - then we can defend that and swamp all the moves.
"We've got a couple of other guys who are pretty capable of winning the tour with Jack [Anderson] - he's climbing really well and Karl [Evans] who's a really good climber. He was third up Bunya last year so I think we have equal pressure between the three of us. We'll just see how it pans out but we've got a few options.
"Hopefully come a couple of days in I'll be confident I'll be able to give it a good nudge to climb with the in-form Genesys guys who are all climbing quite well.
Cameron Watt, the team's sports director, has chosen an entirely fresh-face squad for Toowoomba which compared to most of the other teams, goes against the norm of bringing most of the the riders from Battle on the Border onto the next race in Queensland. This tactic Cupitt believes could pay dividends as the team has been preparing with smaller races and training hard to make sure they are in the good condition for the third round of the NRS' 2013 season.
"I think Cam wanted to have a fully-fresh squad. Everyone has been training really hard and doing other little races in the lead-up. I'm off to a bit of a slower start to last year - last edition was a month later but hopefully getting Perth under my belt and a few more k's can turn it up a little bit.
One of the most critical days apart from Stage 2 to Bunya Mountain, will be the 27km TTT on Stage 3. The group effort is part of a double-header which will see the teams back-up for a 113km road race in the afternoon. The distance for this year's TTT is significantly longer than the previous edition and with exposed roads and rolling terrain, the time gaps could rule out a number of riders and teams from challenging for the overall. Budget's credential-filled time trial squad however, should be one of the few realistically capable of riding for the win that day.
"It's definitely exposed and a little bit lumpy as well," he told Cyclingnews. "It could be a crucial part of the tour I think. It's quite a fair bit longer this year and lumpier.
"We've got Sam Horgan who was Oceania champ in 2012, Jack Anderson is a really good time triallist, I'm not too bad and then a couple of endurance track guys like Peter Loft and [Luke] Ockerby - they've got a fair bit of horse-power. Karl Evans just won the South Australian TT champs on Sunday so I think we've got a good all-round team for the TTT. There's no real weakness.
Aggressive race and putting multiple guys in the breakaways generally pays-off, according to last year's second-place at Graft to Inverell. The team is known for piling on the pressure by not resting on having a single rider up the road. The more riders that try, the better the odds and that's exactly what they will be doing when the racing begins today with a 112km stage from Oakey to Highfields.
"We always try and get as many guys as we can up there. We don't just say 'we want you to get in the break today' we want three or four in the brake. Sometimes then you get two out of four. Sometimes we try and send two in the break and then you at least get one out of the two. We just try and throw a few more eggs early and it usually pays off."