Robert Hunter flew to Australia in November full of hopes for the Pegasus project he had joined after shortening his contract with Garmin-Transitions. One of the hopes was to take part in the Santos Tour Down Under as the start of a new adventure.
From a personal point of view, he has made it a reality as he secured a last minute deal with RadioShack and replaced initial entrant Sébastien Rosseler, who was unable to compete in Australia, but the South African hasn’t fully overcome the shock of the Pegasus fiasco yet.
“I’m deeply disappointed that the team didn’t happen,” Hunter told Cyclingnews in Adelaide prior to stage 5 of the Santos Tour Down Under, which he completed in sixth position. “It was a good idea. At the end of the day, I don’t know what to believe. I’m just happy to be racing in a ProTour team again. Probably after thirteen years as a pro, the fear of being left with no team is different than for someone who has only raced for two years.”
Also a victim of the Pegasus fiasco, his compatriot Daryl Impey is still on the market, hoping to join a Pro Continental team some time soon. “When you talk to a team at Christmas, you hardly get the same contract and the same money as if you deal in May or June,” said Hunter, who dealt with Garmin’s team manager Jonathan Vaughters for the 2010 season several weeks before the official opening of the transfer window in 2009.
“When I realized that Pegasus was not happening, I sent Lance a message,” Hunter explained. “He answered that he’d speak to Johan (Bruyneel) who confirmed to me that he was interested. When I got to know that Pegasus was for sure not happening, he gave the ok to make a deal.”
So it happened with the other Robbie as well, and the late addition of fast finishers McEwen and Hunter has changed the philosophy of Bruyneel’s team. “During the years of US Postal and Discovery Channel, we never had a top sprinter,” said Armstrong who experienced riding at the service of a sprinter during the last international race of his career.
“It’s been different racing with Lance this week than it would have been in the past,” Hunter continued. “He was not here to win the Tour Down Under. He had no personal ambition and he’s been pretty relaxed. It’s been good to have him setting up the sprints for myself and Robbie because people in the bunch have a lot of respect for him. Even if it’s his last race, he has helped Robbie get time bonuses and wear the leader’s jersey.”
At the Taiwan Cup at the end of October, Hunter told Cyclingnews that he hoped to ride for the same team for the last four years he hopes to race before ending his career, as he didn’t want to change team anymore. Due to the circumstances, however, he’s now on a one-year contract.
“I hope Team RadioShack continues,” he said. “I heard the sponsor is happy. Riders like [Dauphiné Libéré overall winner Janez] Brajkovic can win big races. There’s a lot of depth in the team even without Lance after this race here. Hopefully with myself and Robbie, this team can even get more wins than usual. If the team continues beyond this season, I’d be more than happy to stay.”
The only African Tour de France stage winner so far (in Montpellier in 2007) is on the list of the provisional line up for RadioShack at the Grande Boucle, something that wouldn’t have been on his agenda this year, had he been a Pegasus rider in 2011.