Drapac Cycling has announced part of its roster for its return to UCI Pro-Continental status in 2014. Riders joining the squad are Jack Anderson (Budget Forklifts), Jonathan Cantwell (Saxo-Tinkoff), Jai Crawford (Huon-Genesys), Ben Johnson, Jordan Kerby (Christina Watches-Onfone), Lachlan Norris (Raleigh) and Wouter Wippert (Team 3M).
"For our first year back in the Professional Continental ranks it is important to find the correct balance between experience and youth," said Drapac manager Jonathan Breekveldt. "With Jonathan [Cantwell] we have a proven winner and somebody who can bring valuable knowledge from the World Tour."
Currently a sprinter for Saxo-Tinkoff, Cantwell was originally slated to join the top rung of the cycling world with the ill-fated Pegasus project. Now Cantwell finds himself re-united with former Fly-V director Henk Vogels and is looking forward to returning to Australia and his previous winning ways.
"This is about me seizing the moment and taking the opportunity when it presents itself. Being 31, I've still got quite a few years of good cycling in me, probably my best is to come," he said. "Looking towards the long term with the little family that I've got now, this is a fantastic opportunity to move back to Australia and to Melbourne which is something new for me. I'm really excited for the new challenge."
Cantwell recently finished as runner-up on GC at the World Ports Classic as well as well as taking a sixth place stage finish in the Tour de France last year. It's this experience gained in European racing that Cantwell believes gives him greater depth going forward.
"As an athlete, I'm a lot stronger," explained Cantwell. "It's all about getting through those 200km-plus road stages, whereas previously racing a lot in America, you'd never race over 140kms. To have that foundation behind me now and to get through the Tour de France last year, the depth and the amount of racing that I've done over the last two years has really turned me into a better bike rider. I'm a faster sprinter; I'm stronger on the climbs.
"Hopefully I can pass on what I've learned to some of the younger guys at Drapac and I'd love to be in the position to mentor them."
Domestic talents for Drapac
Kerby recently returned to Australia and spoke with Cyclingnews about his year abroad with Christina Watches-Onfone. Kerby now comes on board with Drapac as an exciting young prospect for the Australian team.
"From what I hear, it's run very well and being an Australian pro team, I want to be a part of that," Kerby said. "I'm going into my final year as an Under-23 and I've been racing for a long time. I definitely think that I'm ready.
"Racing in Asia and the US suits my abilities and looking back at the last few seasons, I've constantly been improving every year so I definitely think I can step up next year and I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Jai Crawford is one of the most underrated talents of his generation with frequent strong climbing performances throughout his career going relatively unheralded. The 30-year-old Tasmanian scored his best result in the 2010 Tour of Utah where he out-climbed Levi Leipheimer and Francisco Mancebo whilst racing with Fly V Australia. Now the father of one joins Drapac from the Huon Salmon-Genesys Wealth Advisers Cycling Team.
"It wasn't easy to leave Huon-Genesys because they've been really good to me. They saved my career," said Crawford from the Tour of Tasmania.
"Drapac is well-established and with Henk Vogels joining the team, I know him really well from my Fly V days and I get along with him, he's a great motivator and in the end having thought about it I realized that if I turned down the opportunity, I'd be mad."
Anderson brings more European experience to the team having raced with Magnus Backstedt's Team Sprocket Procycling and Endura Racing before returning the Australia with Budget Forklifts. Having flourished this year despite working full-time, Anderson presents another promising rider for the future.
Norris left Drapac at the end of the 2012 season to ride for Team Raleigh but returns to the Australian squad for 2014. Having previously ridden as a stagiaire at HTC-Highroad before the cessation of that team, Norris finally earns the chance to compete at top-level races worldwide.
Johnson returns to cycling having previously walked away from the sport in 2008. Johnson has raced in the past with Cofidis, Agriturbel and Slipstream, and will bring added experience to Drapac for 2014.
"To race with an Australian-based team is something that I always wanted to do," he said. "This opportunity is great; I don't think there's another scenario where I could find myself back in the sport full-time."
Another Dutchman on board
Dutchman Wouter Wippert joins Drapac having spent time with the Lotto Belisol development program before joining Team 3M in 2013. A former winner at the Tour de l'Avenir, Wouter will ride beside compatriot Floris Goesinnen who joined the Drapac squad in 2011 after racing with Skil-Shimano.
Drapac joined the pro-continental ranks for the first time in 2008 as it took its first expansive steps onto the European scene. Having dialled back to UCI Continental level for the last five years, as well as increasing their race program throughout Asia and Europe, the team now makes the step back to Pro-Continental level in order to race the Santos Tour Down Under and expand into the US calendar.