Brendan Canty's rise to the WorldTour has been swift with the 24-year-old spending 2015 at Continental level with Budget Forklifts, 2016 at Pro-Continental with Drapac, and now moves to the top tier of the sport in 2017 with Cannondale-Drapac. Canty's progression is akin to a football team moving through the divisions but the Australian is aiming for his time at the top to be a long time stay at the top and not an equally swift fall down.
"It is obviously a dream to have been given the opportunity and I didn't have any hesitations at all," Canty told Cyclingnews of the move. "Particularly for me, moving through with Michael Drapac and his team is something I am really looking forward to given that I have stagiaired with him for two years and then ridden full-time with his team this year. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity and extremely excited for what the future holds."
In late June, it was announced that the Drapac and Cannondale teams would be merging from 2017 but there was no guarantee for the Pro-Continental riders that they would have a contract for the upcoming season. Due to his early-season performances, that included winning the best young rider classification and finishing seventh at the Tour of Oman, Canty sealed his first WorldTour contract. William Clarke and Tom Scully are the other Drapac riders who will join Canty at Cannondale-Drapac next season.
Announcements that teams are folding, or sponsors are jumping ship can have adverse effects on riders who in turn focus on their personal results and jettison team plans. With the announcement of the merger made known to staff and riders early in the season, Canty explained that he didn't witness any selfish riding from his teammates despite the fact that this could have hurt their chances to earn a contract.
"I think it obviously changes a few things with what people want to achieve personally," Canty reflected on the impact of the merger news. "Did I see that change the way the team rode together? I don't think so. You always go into a race wanting to achieve the best and we sit down and talk about a plan and quite often I saw the guys go out and try and execute to the best of their ability the plan that we had for that race. It just adds to the level of pressure and obviously people want to perform and earn their spot, but I think there was also the element of who is doing their job well. We always spoke about that and the director sportifs knew that it was hard to give somebody a job that might not earn them a spot themselves but sacrifice their own chances for other riders. There was always that in the background but I don't think it affected how we performed as a team."
Canty's debut win on European soil came at the Tour of Austria while the Tour de France was in full flight. While performances at Austria can fly under the radar due to it clashing with the Tour, the win was an important one for Canty who had told Cyclingnews it was a target race for 2016.
"For me, that was probably my highlight of the season," he said of the stage win which helped him finish eighth overall. "My ride in Tour of Oman to win the young riders jersey and compete against some of the bigger names was also good, but there is no better feeling than taking the top step of the podium. Austria is renowned for being quite a tough race and a mountainous race and I think the way in which I won that stage, hitting the bottom of the climb together with the main bunch and riding off to the win was pretty special. I definitely think that was a big step in terms of my year in Europe and hopefully I can use that moving forward next year as a bit of a confidence booster and a reminder of the feeling of winning a race."
After Austria, Canty was off to the 'fourth grand tour' at the Volta a Portugal for his final race in the red kit of Drapac. A long season was one of the contributing factors to ending for the year early as he explained, but not the only one.
"I was always going to finish a little earlier in the season and I didn't have a visa sorted for this year so I was limited to the amount of time I could spend in Europe. So that was also on the back of my mind given the remaining races that we had and current situation and the riders who were still in Europe, it was fine for me to head home a little earlier," he said. "Portugal was the longest and hardest tour that I have ever done. I think for me to do that at the end of the season was quite good, especially in preparation for what is going to be involved for next season. I think it was a good little tour to do, especially not long after Tour of Austria. It was a good little block for me to get done. It was a hard tour and I didn't go as well as I would had hoped there but think I gained a lot from that tour and will come out it a stronger rider."
Cannondale-Drapac and 2017 ambitions
While already familiar with the Drapac side of his new team, Canty enjoyed a brief introduction to the Cannondale set up of things with a whirlwind flight over to Girona from Melbourne, Australia. Like several of his teammates and a growing list of professional cyclist, Canty will be based in in the Spanish city next season. Somewhere he says that is the "logical place to live". This trip though was made for sporting reasons, with living arrangements to be finalised over the next few months, with Canty explaining the benefits of meeting the staff and some of his new teammates.
"I sat down with all the director sportifs for next year and obviously not all of them knew who I was too well and had to ask a few questions, which is normal I guess. We sat down and talked about what to expect next year and what sort of races I would be doing," he said. "It was good for me to go over there and get all of that done with a couple of the other new riders as well. It was mostly the new guys there meeting all the staff and having a few other different meetings. It was a short trip to fly over to Spain but it was necessary and worth it."
While the WorldTour teams for 2018 are still to be confirmed and the UCI finalises its 2017 calendar, Canty was able to gain some insight into what the new year will bring. First up, he is hoping for an Australian summer of racing and debut Tour Down Under appearance.
"For me, I would really like to do the Australian racing before I head overseas. So if I can do the Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race that would be a good introduction to 2017 for me with the team considering I am an Australian rider and I can start training pretty early here. There are a few other races that have been mentioned to me that will potentially be on the calendar next year but obviously at this early stage it is pretty hard to know exactly what I will be doing. Things always tend to change so you just have to be prepared for that and make sure I am right to do when I need to be."
A realistic Canty added that although he would prefer to to race in Australia over January, he is well aware it is a long season with plenty of race days ahead. And beyond that, several years await as a professional cyclist.
"Next year there are a lot of different goals and I think I need to look at the whole season and how big it is going to be," he said. "Obviously, from the team perspective the focus will be on the racing in the WorldTour for those points and getting big results there so there will be less emphasis on the team's end on nationals but for sure, personally I would like to give nationals a good crack and I think it aligns quite well with the Tour Down Under the following week if that is what I am racing. I would definitely like to come into that race with some good form."