Jai Crawford (Huon Salmon - Genesys Wealth Advisers) is coming into form at the right time with the Tasmanian-based squad due to head back to Asia later this month for the Tour of Japan, where the 29-year-old has previously finished runner-up.
First, there's this week's FKG Tour of Toowoomba to contest, the third round of the Subaru National Road Series (NRS) with Huon - Genesys claiming GC victories on the opening two events of the year via Joe Cooper at the Woodside Tour de Perth and Jack Haig at the Battle of the Border where Crawford was second overall. It was a result that was set up by finishing second to Haig on the opening stage on the punishing Mount Warning climb with the lead two riders not letting go of their position for the remainder of the race. The noted climber is steadily rediscovering his race legs, with much of his focus on his young son who was born in November last year.
"The form's coming up," Crawford confirmed to Cyclingnews. "I haven't had much form all year - everything's different when you've got a baby so the focus hasn't really been on getting into super form. I think just by virtue of having a bit of racing lately in Perth and then last week it just brings the form up. At Toowoomba I should be just a little bit better than Battle of the Border - hopefully anyway."
"He’s super professional in his approach and he’s obviously got talent. He can time trial and he can climb like a mad man, he’s got it all ahead of him." - Crawford on Jack Haig
Crawford forms part of a three-pronged climbing attack for Toowoomba, along with Haig and Nathan Earle but he is also certain that Kiwi Cooper should not be ruled out.
"We've got a fourth option in Joe Cooper as well, he's a pretty good time trialist and on his day he can climb quite well," Crawford explained. "The steeper stuff doesn't really suit him but he's travelling really well at the moment from his time trial results."
"I don't think there's any particular leadership going into the race. Andrew [Christie-Johnston, sports director] always approaches the race with a number of options and never really designates someone as a GC leader until we see how things play out on the road," he continued. "Especially in the NRS. Anything can happen. It's not just down to climbing. Climbs that win Battle of the Border and even the climb in Toowoomba [Bunya Mountain - ed.], it's not a massive mountain and the maximum gap that you're going to get is 30 seconds - if you're lucky - so the race isn't over at all. You've got to have as many options as you can for breakaways and whatever plays out in the race."
After Toowoomba Crawford will get "two or three days at home" before the team heads to Japan where in 2008, he finished runner-up to Cameron Meyer by just two seconds.
"I'd really like to go back there and do well," he explained. "Having said that, my form, it's okay but it's not been as good as it was a few years back so I'll just take it as it comes."
Finally in the right place at the right time?
Having joined Genesys mid-way through last season after cutting ties with RTS Racing, Crawford has been plugging away in the NRS while making the most of the Australian-registered UCI Continental team's starts throughout Asia. It's a team that has suited the rider who has previously earned top-five overall placings at Le Tour de Langkawi (2007, 2009), but also Jelajah Malaysia (2009), Tour de Korea (2009), Tour of East Java (2007), Tour of Japan (2008), Tour of Siam (2007) and Tour of the Philippines (2011).
In recent months, Huon - Genesys has indicated that their next step is to apply for Professional Continental status for the 2014 season, an opportunity that has cruelly and frustratingly passed Crawford by in previous years. It's a prospect that Crawford admits is "great" but there's an understandable element of caution that comes with any talk of the step up.
"Talking about a Pro Conti licence is one thing but actually doing it is another," Crawford told Cyclingnews. "I've heard it a lot over my career. Obviously it would be great for me being in the team and I'd just step up to that level without having to change teams or anything which has always been the trouble - getting my foot in the door with any of the bigger teams, it's just never happened, apart from Pegasus."
Crawford said that he knew that the upgrade was a possibility for the team when he joined the 'Orange Army' but at the same time, the team harbours a fine balance with a strong emphasis on the development of young talent, launching the European careers of Richie Porte, Will Clarke, Nathan Haas and Steele Von Hoff, so it was never a guarantee. With that in mind, Crawford realises that it's an opportunity that may result in some young riders avoiding experiencing some of the career-stalling pain that he has.
"At the same time if they've got the sponsors on board then they can build a stronger team," he said. "It would give guys like me and some of the younger guys who would maybe travel the same sort of path that I had and struggle to get their foot in the door, giving them that option to make a living from the sport and ride some bigger bike races," he said.