While many observers expected Matt Lloyd to be part of the newly formed GreenEdge team, the king of the mountain at the 2010 Giro d'Italia opted to race for the Lampre-ISD team after an eight-month break in his career due to a fall-out with Omega Pharma-Lotto. A runner up to Simon Gerrans at the Australian national championship, the uphill finish at Willunga Hill makes him a potential winner of the Santos Tour Down Under.
Lloyd possibly wouldn't be in the same state of form and serenity without Lampre-ISD team manager Roberto Damiani, who formerly directed him at Omega Pharma-Lotto. The highly respected Italian coach watched him riding the Australian nationals in Ballarat two weeks ago.
"I must admit that I was a little bit surprised to see Matt going so well," Damiani told Cyclingnews in Adelaide. "Apart from a couple of races in Australia in September and October, he hadn't raced for eight months. After that he came to Europe to undergo testing at the Mapei centre, so I realized that his condition was very good but it's been a pleasant surprise to see him perform so well."
The first four stages of the Santos Tour Down Under have confirmed Lloyd's capacities of competing at the highest level of cycling again at the age of 28. "We just expect from him that he gives the best of what he has," Damiani said. "We're behind him at 100 percent. But we don't put any pressure on him. The level of this race is very, very high! Matt can finish up there with the best riders, even though Willunga Hill isn't the ideal climb for him. He knows the climb, he has done well there in the past but he's a pure climber. He's built for the Gavia and the Mont Ventoux more than Willunga Hill where the changes of rhythm can hurt him."
"Above all, we recruited him at Lampre-ISD because he's a great rider," Damiani said. "He didn't do anything wrong [when he got fired by Omega Pharma-Lotto]. Everyone has ups and downs in his life. If we give a second chance to people who have had problems with doping, we should even more give a hand to someone who has had personal problems. Matt deserves to be supported. It's in the interest of Lampre-ISD to have a rider like him, and it was my personal interest to help him from a human perspective."
In a team captained by Grand Tour podium finishers like Michele Scarponi and Damiano Cunego, Lloyd might not have the freedom to target the king of the mountain price he won two years ago at the Giro d'Italia. "We want him to express the qualities he's got," Damiani said. "For sure, Matt can win races."