First year at Sky a learning experience for Earle

Australian focused on a good start to 2015

When Nathan Earle inked a two-year deal with Team Sky mid-way through last season, it was confirmation of his consistency over several seasons and reward for his never give up attitude.

With his season completed, the 26-year-old Australian spoke to Cyclingnews about what it was like to finally get the chance to race at the top level of the sport.

"An experience," Earle said of his 60 day season. "It was tough but exciting at the same time, some things were easier than I thought while some things were harder than I thought, but I'd probably sum up the whole year as a learning experience.

"As much as it was exciting and you're doing these amazing races, you're learning from others guys on the team who are the best cyclists in the world so you learn off them and also from observing what other cyclists and teams do. I'd say it was just a huge learning experience."

Adapting to life as a professional and life in southern France, between Nice and Monaco, was made easier with friend and teammate Richie Porte a virtual neighbour.

"It was really nice actually," Earle said of having Porte close by. "I feel really lucky having him on the first team that I went to as a professional. It helped break the ice a lot and made things a lot easier having him to help out and as someone I could go to and visit at the beginning of the year when I didn't know too many people. It was just nice to have him around and it made the transition easier."

Earle made his debut with the team at the Australian nationals in January which was followed by the Tour Down Under with his European debut coming at the Tour du Haut Var. More racing miles were clocked at one-day races in Italy before tackling the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya in late March.

The season highlight for Earle came early in the year when he lined up for all three Ardennes classics and found a style of racing that he believes best suites his characteristics.

"I'd have to say personally just racing Liège-Bastogne-Liège," he said of his 2014 highlight. "It's a race that I have always had an interest in and it's always fascinated me. I used to have a framed picture of the race in my bedroom and I used to think 'Wow that would be pretty cool to race that one day.' To be able to race that was a bit surreal.

"I finished, but I was about five minutes down [Earle finished 5:16 minutes behind Simon Gerrans, ed] so it wasn't a good result or anything but I was the only Team Sky rider left in the race. Guys were just injured or sick, having a bad day or just crashing, so I ended up being the last guy in the race which was pretty special."

Earle had starts at the Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian and GP Ouest France–Plouay and finished off his season with the two Canadian one-day WorldTour races, the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec and Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal, which are all likely to become races in which he targets for future success.

"I think from this year of racing I've figured out that the Ardennes racing suits me," he said. "In the pro peloton I can't see myself as a pure climber or a sprinter. I think I am a one-day classic kind of rider so doing Liège got me excited to come back next year and hopefully in years to come to do well at that race."

First year lessons
Earle had been racing with what is now the Continental Avanti team since 2008 and was therefore accustomed to living as a full-time cyclists but admitted to learning some important lessons with Sky this year.

"Team work. I already knew that but when you go up to another level, it's just that much more important to work as a team," he said. "As soon as someone isn't there, isn't pulling their weight or isn't doing their job because they can't be bothered, aren't fit enough or have an injury or something then it really throws a spanner in the works.

"This year just confirmed how important teamwork and working well as a team really is to performing well. When you pull off a win and you are really united as a team, it's more satisfying than if someone's fluking a win or you're not involved in it. That confirmed what I already knew."

For Earle, it was also a season of finding out how his body coped with the rigours of professional racing and how best to prepare in order to make the most of his limited opportunities.

"Another important lesson is to turn up to each race in the best possible form that you can be in," he said. "I've heard this from other guys too, but it's easy to sink into a support role and think 'Oh I am just here as a support rider. I'll ride on the front, get dropped, make the time limit and do it again the next day.'

"You can get used to that and all of sudden an opportunity is thrown at you, such as getting in a break you thought would come back and it doesn't and all the riders drop like flies and you're the last one left, you think 'I wish I was training to the best of my ability or I prepared a bit better because now I am in a position to get a good result.'"

For a rider yet to receive too many opportunities, Earle knows it's imperative to take your chances when they arise.

"That happened a few times this year, I think I was pretty well prepared, but it shows that it is important to always be ready. You may have the best plan but that can go out the window and all of a sudden you're the last man left and you just never know when an opportunity for a result will come your way."

2015 ambitions

Having tied the knot in Tasmania and enjoyed a five day honeymoon, the "holidays are over and it's training time again" for Earle who turns his sights to performing at the Australian Nationals and Tour Down Under in January.

"I want to target the nationals to try and get a good result," he said of his first season goals of 2015. "I can see a top five as being achievable as I've always got top ten, bar one or two years, in the U23's and elite men so my goal is the podium.

"I think that I can do that, on the day a lot of things come into play and one mistake can mean it's all over, you never know how's it going to pan out."

A high placing at nationals could pave the way for a protected role at the Tour Down Under where a good result could see Earle considered for a debut grand tour appearance but he isn't counting his chickens just yet.

"I'd really like to," Earle said of his goal to ride a three-week race. "I couldn't see myself doing the Tour de France. I think that is too bigger a step but I think it is possible that I could be selected for the Giro d'Italia but I am just waiting to see.

"There are so many other strong guys on the team and at this point there are other guys who'd get chosen before me, and that's totally understandable, so I think I'd really have to have a good start to the year and prove myself too be able to earn a spot in the Giro. I'd really like that to be a target for next year."

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