Former WorldTour rider Matthew Lloyd raised a few eyebrows earlier this year when he signed with Jelly Belly-Maxxis for the 2014 season, but the 2010 Giro d'Italia mountains classification and stage winner said he was looking for a fresh start with the US Continental team.
"With this bunch, I've noticed that there's a constant eagerness to get involved with new ways of looking at the clothing and the bike technology and everything else," he told Cyclingnews last week during the team's training camp in Southern California.
"So it is a fresh feeling. And that's a pretty different vibe to Europe where you get the historical aspect of things, which sometimes crowds out the progress forward," he said. "And that's probably the really big difference with the US - probably Canada and Australia are similar, too. You get a real feel for people pushing to really get the most out of things. And with that in mind you get the sponsors on board to accompany that push. So that's been impressive."
The 30-year-old former Australian national road champion has had a rough go of it over the past several seasons, and he sat out most of last year. Lloyd was hit by a car while training in Melbourne following the 2010 season, injuring his back and shoulder. He returned for 2011, but another injury brought his time with Omega Pharma-Lotto to an abrupt end.
Lloyd bounced back with Lampre-ISD in 2012, but he broke his collarbone and elbow during the Tour de France, eventually dropping out of the French Grand Tour and failing to finish all but two of the following eight races that ended his season.
"If you'd have placed the two [injuries] on an individual basis, it's probably something that you would be able to deal with," he said. "But in quick succession it was becoming more of a tolerance thing just riding the bike and being comfortable, which tends to get dramatically affected when you're doing 130 race days a year."
Last season Lloyd raced the Australian national championships, the Tour down Under and the Volta a Catalunya, which he failed to finish before calling an end to his season in March so that he could take the time to assess and finally address his spinal issues.
"It was good in retrospect to be able to take six, seven months completely away from any aspect of racing and just get back into regularity," he said. "But on the other hand, it's a continual thing, and anyone who has had injuries, particularly with the spine and the shoulders, can be pretty understanding that the maintenance is also a key factor."
Now, with his body having recovered quite well and being able to feel comfortable on the bike again, Lloyd is looking to spring back onto the podium steps he was so familiar with in the past. He got his first glimpse of the Jelly Belly set up and roster last week at the training camp, and Lloyd said he likes what he's seen so far.
"It's a really solid bunch of guys," he said of the team. "It's often the case where you can put a whole bunch of really good names on paper, but if they don't gel they're not able to really put it together. People just race and you go from event to event and nothing really happens.
"Just in the last couple of days, getting over here and seeing the motivation from top to bottom and from all sides of it, we're already started on a really good level," he said. "That means that ideally we'll be able to heat it up and get some really good results."
Lloyd went back to Australia after camp and will return to the US in time to start his first block of racing at Silver City's Tour of the Gila and the Tour of California. He'll race the Philly Cycling Classic and Tour de Beauce before taking a break to recover for the other major North American UCI races if the team gets invitations. Although cycling is a competition and results always matter, Lloyd said his goals reach further than simply piling up wins.
"To get the group holistically to a really good base with not only the results but happiness of the riders and sponsorships and things like that," he said of his own goals this year. "As far as I can see, we're in a really, really good position to target [the big American UCI] races, and it allows everyone to have their opportunities and also work together to hopefully get some huge scope out of it and heat it up on the biggest stage."
Snatching headline-worthy results in America's biggest races is a proven way to get back to Europe and the WorldTour, and that certainly is a consideration for Lloyd, but he indicated that he would be happy racing outside of the big show of the WorldTour.
"I think just shooting for the best prospects and the best objectives that I can probably get out of the next seven months or so and taking it step by step will open doors in many directions," he said. "If it leads to bigger and better things, that's one way it can go. On the other side of the coin, America's a cool place, and there's no reason why people wouldn't want to stay here and watch the racing get bigger."
In the meantime, Lloyd can simply enjoy being back in the mix and soaking up some of the little things along the way, like rooming at camp with former Lotto teammate and current US national road champion Freddie Rodriguez.
"I think the first roommate I ever had with Lotto down at the Tour Down Under was Freddie," he said. "So it comes full circle sometimes, and I ended up with him again eight years later. So it's a cool world with that in cycling."