When Joe Lewis looked at his 2011 schedule with development team Trek-Livestrong, he fully expected to be racing with them well into August and perhaps even September. As a final year under 23, showcasing his talents on a world stage in the bigger races that feature at the end of the American racing calendar were crucial to launching him on the road to a professional career in 2012.
His win at the Tour of Gila got things on the right track early on in the year, but a controversial ruling by the UCI in July prevented Livestrong from racing at the Cascade Classic, the Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge - Lewis main goals for the season - and in doing so cut short Lewis' time with the team, and ended his American adventure prematurely.
Though that "was a bit of a downer" for the 22-year-old it did allow him to come back to the Australian domestic racing scene to do a stint with BikeBug.com, the Sun Tour with the Australian National Team and a first time participation at the Tour of Southland in New Zealand, with Livestrong teammate George Bennett.
Lewis talked to Cyclingnews about his 2011, and how an unexpected second half to the season may have been a blessing in disguise.
"The time with Trek-Livestrong was obviously pretty awesome. The whole ‘Lance’ factor and all those things associated with being on the team, and its connections with the foundation itself. The whole thing really helps your public profile – suddenly I had a lot more people interested in what I was up to.
"Just after I won at Gila, I sent out a tweet about the race - Lance re-tweeted it and suddenly I had 300 new followers.
"Being with a team like that really changes the way you approach racing. In the past with Drapac you just race, race, race. You’d race to get form for races. With Livestrong it’s been a lot more training based, with longer breaks in between. You've got nutritionists and coaches like Axel Merckx around you all the time.
"I was also at altitude in Boulder, and that was something new as well and it took a bit of time getting used to. Personally I would’ve preferred a bit more racing, but we also got some good results with the program that we had. It was disappointing for things to be cut short but what can you do."
An Australian sojourn
The UCI decision did end things with Livestrong earlier than expected, but it also freed up Lewis' schedule to other opportunities.
When Trent Wilson called up a then holidaying Lewis to ride with the BikeBug.com, the Livestrong rider jumped at the chance to continue his season back home - a decision that would prove to be a fruitful one.
He raced at the Tour of the Murray River, the Goulburn to Sydney Classic, and the Tour of Tasmania before he had a last minute invitation from Pat Jonker to ride with the Australian national team at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. Seventh overall there was enough to seal him a destination for 2012, but the Australian was quick to credit the level in Australia, particularly on the NRS as a big contributor to that result.
"The quality in Australia has really improved in comparison to years previous," said Lewis. "I think more people are going to start looking at the series as a competitive road calendar, rather than just thinking it’s full of crits and short road races. I had some problems with injuries early on but once I got back into it I really enjoyed racing here. When you're a happy bike rider it makes things a lot easier.
"It was great to come back and help some of the guys like Phil [Grenfell] in any way I could. If I can help those guys out with a lead-out or whatever in any of those races, and that gives them a better chance of a contract for next year, then that’s something that I’m more than happy to do."
Southland and 2012
Lewis' last race with BikeBug.com in Australia was the recent Grafton to Inverell. Though he looked strong in the 230 kilometres classic it was clear there that fatigue from a long season was starting to take its' toll on the 22-year-old.
While it may have seemed logical to hang up his bike, an invitiation from close friend and Colorado housemate George Bennett to ride this week's Tour of Southland was enough to convince him to ride one final event.
"I’ve never ridden Southland before, so it’s a new experience," said Lewis. "George has asked me to be here, and I’m happy to come and work for him at the end of the season. I don't come here with any particular aspirations but I know George is going well so I'll try and help him in whatever way I can."
And next year?
"I'd like to continue to build myself as an all-round rider," said Lewis. "I think that's where I can do best. I don't have quite the top-end speed to win out of a big field, but I like to think that at the end of a hard day of racing, I can be the fastest guy who makes it over the climb. Obviously I'll tailor my training to do as well as possible in the races that I'm doing, but in general I think that's where I can do well.
"I'm looking forward to working with the team I've got line up, they're ambitious, [and so am I]."