US national champion Matthew Busche (UnitedHealthcare) says that he’s still feeling the effects of a long and challenging 2015 season. Busche claimed his second national road race title in emphatic style in May but his year was bookended by two heavy crashes and difficulties in renegotiating his contract with Trek Factory Racing. After an off-season that was shorter than he would have liked, Busche is racing again and looking to find the form he had in the middle of last year.
“2015 was a rollercoaster,” Busche told Cyclingnews ahead of the third stage of the Tour de San Luis. “I broke my wrist in the first race of the year and then I just really struggled to come back from that, and then I won the Nationals, which was really exciting, important and nice. Then I had the really hard crash in Utah and then contract stuff. It was hard mentally and physically.
“It was definitely a test, but I’m trying to get through that and get back to where I know I can be racing at my best level. One day at a time.”
Busche’s departure from Trek Factory Racing at the end of last year was a surprise to many, not least himself. The 30-year-old had understandably believed that his US national title would prove to be enough to help him stay with the team he had turned professional with in 2010. Unfortunately for Busche, a contract didn’t materialise, and he was faced with the prospect of moving on.
“I was relatively certain, almost 100 per cent sure that after I won the Nationals that I was going to be rehired. Unfortunately, things didn’t go how we thought so I had to start looking for a job, and UnitedHealthcare came through when I needed them,” said Busche. “There wasn’t really a reason, which was part of the frustration of it. There wasn’t a lot of communication. It’s hard when you’re looking for answers and reasons but I guess that it’s just part of the sport.
“I spent six years with a version of Trek whether it was RadioShack or Trek Factory Racing. It was definitely hard to get pushed off the boat. It is a little bit bitter for me but sometimes there’s no good reason, so I’m just trying not to focus on that, to look ahead and move on.”
Onwards and upwards
The Tour de San Luis is Busche’s first race with the UnitedHealthcare team, it is also the first time that he’s had a chance to meet most of his teammates. It had got off well with a strong team time trial performance, but a crossing of wheels in the peloton saw him come down. Despite the fall, he managed to finish with the main group and he is sitting in 24th in the overall classification at 1:04.
It’s early days for Busche in the team, but he hopes that he will be able to show what he can do later in the season. “I’m still just trying to find my place, but I think I’ll be a GC rider for most of the stage races. If I’m not the GC guy, then I’ll support my teammates if I need to. I’m hoping to get some opportunities, and I’m especially looking forward to California, Utah and Colorado as the big American races. As an American with UnitedHealthcare as an American sponsor, those are important races for them.”
Outside of the major American races, Busche’s calendar is still relatively undefined but following the Tour de San Luis, Busche is heading to the Middle East for the Tour of Qatar and the Tour of Oman. He will also have a tilt at taking his third national road race title in May. “It’s a new venue this year. I don’t know anything about it. To me it would seem pretty flat but what I hear is that Winston-Salem has got quite a few rollers and stuff, so it could end up being a really rolling course and if it is long and rolling then it could be hard, and it’s anybody’s guess what will happen.”
Return to the WorldTour
After leaving the WorldTour so unceremoniously, Busche remains hopeful that he can make it back soon. However, he’s determined that it won’t remove his focus from his short-term goals in 2016.
“I mean all I can do is ride my best and hope that if I can get back there I can. I’m not going to focus on it because it will only distract me,” he said. “If I can get back to the WorldTour then great. I would like to because I know that I can ride at that level, and I still have more potential inside of me. If I don’t get back there, I had some time there, and I’ll enjoy my time with UnitedHealthcare and whoever else I have, and just start to figure out what is next. For now, I’m going to keep racing and work as hard as I can to see if I can get back there.”