At the end of 2014, Melbourne-based National Road Series (NRS) team CharterMason Giant announced it would be racing under a Continental licence for the upcoming season. The upgrade afforded the team a start at the inaugural Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race as well as a start at Australia’s other UCI event, the Jayco Herald Sun Tour in February.
While results weren’t forthcoming at the UCI events, it was to be expected due to the fact that the team was still forming its nucleus, the team showed themselves in breakaways and at the front of the peloton. Only months previously, riders were riding for themselves, unsure of how to ride as a team.
The first race of the 2015 NRS calendar, the Tour de Perth, had a different feel from previous editions with a twilight prologue replacing the opening criterium. Having occupied the hot seat before finishing ninth at the Sun Tour prologue, former mountain bike eliminator world champion Paul van der Ploeg duly delivered on his favourite status for the win.
"Going in we always knew that we were a chance in the prologue having Paul there just with his eliminator background which is a very similar type event," the team’s sports director Damien Harris told Cyclingnews. "I thought it was a good opportunity to get the yellow jersey early and to give the team a good boost right from the get go with the first stage of the tour, and stage of the NRS as well. That went to plan which was perfect."
While the team lost the yellow jersey the next day, German sprinter Raphael Freienstein made it two from two with victory in the bunch sprint finish.
"We always knew we might be about to hold onto the jersey for another day in Perry Lakes with the circuit there finishing in a bunch kick," Harris added. "As it happened, the race was all split up and we had three guys in the front group which was good. Obviously Raph ended up winning the stage and if there had been time bonuses, then he would have been in yellow but that’s just the way it is."
Sam Crome was the next CharterMason rider to get in on the action as he won the queen stage the next day before finishing third overall and claiming the first NRS leaders jersey of 2015.
While there was no official team classification prize at the Tour de Perth, the performances of CharterMason see them take the early lead in the NRS team standings, announcing themselves as an 'x factor' for the 2015 season.
Aiming to be number one
In previous years Avanti, Budget Forklifts and Drapac have been the dominant teams in the NRS winning the majority of stages and races on offer. Once the 'feeder' team for the now Pro-Continental Drapac, CharterMason started emerging from shadows last year with several impressive performances and stage wins in the NRS.
With consistent avenues to stage win success through former superbike rider Shannon Johnson and Freinstein, the team has two proven sprinters in the NRS who can also challenge for overall tour's along with climbers on the team such as Crome and 17-year-old talent Keagan Girdlestone.
"Our aim is to try and challenge the likes of Avanti, Budget Forklifts in that team classification at the end of the year," said Harris of the team’s number one objective in 2015.
With the two-standout sprinters of the 2014 NRS moving on, Jesse Kerrison to BMC Development and Brenton Jones to Drapac, the opportunity is there for CharterMason’s taking and after a baptism of fire in February, Harris is confident in his 16-rider squad of stepping up to the plate.
"There are a lot of guys who are very green but give them the opportunity to race at that level was very, very good," he said. "At Sun Tour we were competitive but we missed that vital break on the first day so we had to rethink our strategy. Basically, the guys learnt how to race at those races. One day there [at the Sun Tour] were swapping off the front with UnitedHealth who are a Pro-Continental squad and just that stage alone taught our guys that’s what you having to do at the big races against the big teams."
The team showed that Harris' lessons were sinking in at the Tour de Perth with victorious reinforcing that that they are on track.
"I think confidence goes a long way in any team," Harris said of what the stage wins meant for the team. "If you get off to a good start then win the second stage and the queen stage, you’re feeling confident having won two from two.
"I’ve been working on building team harmony, cohesion, and that sort of stuff from early in the year and its definitely working," added Harris. "Every time I saw the break [in Perth] we always had more numbers than every one else at every point of the race which was a great sign."
Having spent several years with Avanti as a mechanic, Harris is well informed on what it takes to be the number one team in Australia and to do so consistently.
Up next for the team is round two of the NRS in early-April, the Adelaide Tour, where CharterMason will be a marked team but Harris sees only benefits of starting with the NRS leader's jersey.
"The thing you do get a lot of respect [from winning], obviously when you fluke a result the response is 'oh you were pretty lucky' but because the boys rode so well, and that’s what I am teaching them, you actually have to come to the front and show authority," he said. "Because they did so well, people are now looking at them to do the work which always makes it easer to get into position.
"When you’re trying to get up to that Avanti, Budget level, that’s the hardest thing in the peloton in that respect. Being able to have other teams have faith in you bringing back a break for example. When you’re taking about one percenters that makes a bid difference particularly for the young guys."