In 2018 Jason Lowndes moves down from the Pro Continental Israel Cycling Academy to the Continental level with JLT-Condor. Employed in 2017 as the main sprinter, the 22-year-old came close but ultimately didn’t hit the mark and as a result, no contract extension was forthcoming.
For the 2018 season, Lowndes has inked a deal with John Herety's JLT-Condor team that on paper is a Continental squad but, in reality, has a management structure, race programme and list of sponsors equal to some Pro Continental squads.
Importantly, Herety's team has also been a proven development team and Lowndes is confident he can return to the Pro-Continental ranks with a strong 2018.
"I need to make it clear that I don't see going to JLT as a backward step at all," Lowndes told Cyclingnews. "I think it is the right step in terms of my development and experience, I think I will get a lot of opportunities to actually sprint when racing with them."
Lowndes' professional cycling career begun in 2015 with the Garneau-Québecor squad but he counts the 2016 season with Drapac as his first 'real' season. Third on the final stage of the Tour de San Luis last year, behind the duelling Italian duo of Jakub Mareczko and Elia Viviani, Lowndes was quick to announce his sprint talents. An on again, off again season followed as he fell ill on several occasions. A sixth place in the U23 World Championships road race finalised the season and helped secure his deal with Israel Cycling Academy and status as the primary sprinter.
"I was given the opportunity as the main sprinter. Which I what I wanted and I am grateful for the opportunity I got but unfortunately I found there was a lot of races I went to that only had one sprint opportunity for the whole tour," he said of the 2017 season. "For the early part of the year, I didn't perform well at all. I was very slow to get going and that left me in a position where I had to work for other guys in the team and leading them out. Which I took full responsibility for and just got on with my job."
On the back foot after his slow start to the year, Lowndes started to find form in the European summer. At the Tour of Austria, an in-form Lowndes was third to Viviani on the first road stage and then second two days later. The race was a high point of the season for Lowndes and reminded the Australian of his capabilities in the sprint finales.
"To know that everyone is in really good form, being that time of year, and that Austria is not flat, being able to climb with those guys and suffer it out and then be able to sprint and get a podium was really, really good," said Lowndes, who is coached by Graeme Brown. "I got a lot of confidence from that and I can continue to carry that on throughout next year as well."
For the new year, Lowndes is full of confidence that JLT-Condor is the best possible team to reboot, recharge and notch the wins to move back into the Pro Conti ranks. Having seen Drapac teammate Brenton Jones enjoy success in 2017 with JLT and then ink a deal with Delko Marseille Provence KTM, Lowndes has a template to follow.
"He gave me a lot of freedom and trust and I respect that a lot," Lowndes said of team boss John Herety. "He is a very, very kind man. Obviously, he has a good history of developing riders and moving them on. Having such a long-standing team, well-respected team globally, they have a really good international calendar. Being able to see what Brenton's done, it is a pathway that I believe I can follow. I know Brenton had a very good year regarding results and he has obviously made that step back to where he deserves to be."
With JLT-Condor, Lowndes will start his season down under for the first time in his career in both New Zealand and Australia. Over the Australian summer, Lowndes is aiming to notch his first win and begin his pathway back to the top.
"The plan is to go and do the New Zealand Cycling Classic and also the one-day Gravel and Tar race. Then we'll come back and do the Sun Tour," he said. "The aim is to be going the best I can at the Sun Tour and try to string something together there, make the most of the early season opportunity and try to roll it on from there."