After the departures of Australian duo Michael Hepburn and Luke Durbridge to GreenEdge at the end of the 2011 season, Jayco-AIS was always going to be left with a veritable gulf in its 2012 roster. Hepburn won two stages of last year's Tour de l'Avenir, while Durbridge capped his season with the under 23 world time trial crown - both big shoes to fill.
New recruit Rohan Dennis' performances at nationals, and then shortly after the Tour Down Under went some way to allaying the pressure on the team, but with Dennis' focus firmly on the track until the 2012 Olympic Games, the team still lacked someone they could count on when they head over to Europe.
Cue Jay McCarthy, who in the wake of a consistent if unspectacular 2011 in Europe, showed just how far he's come in the last 12 months, and perhaps how ready he is to assume that leadership role by taking out the New Zealand Cycle Classic [formerly Tour of Wellington]. To put his progression in context, he was 19th overall in the same race this time last year, more than 14 minutes down on eventual winner George Bennett.
"A lot of people were telling me, 'you'll be tired' after Tour Down Under, but what I found last year is that I respond really well to racing, it really helped to string together form," said McCarthy to Cyclingnews. "I did my best to be as good as I could have been for the January racing, I knew I'd be in for a shot at the Tour Down Under spot so I could train with that in mind.
"After the Tour Down Under I backed off a little bit, just to keep fresh, but in the end the work I've done in the off season really showed."
The 19-year-old added that it was great to get some success early on in the year, and took the pressure off ahead of the team's next big goals in Europe. Having showed that he can captain the team in New Zealand, McCarthy also said that it'd be nice to try and take up the natural role as the team's number one rider when they do move over to AIS base in Italy.
"We have so many top riders in this team, there's also Pat Lane who's been getting stronger and stronger, and of course Rohan, but I hope to get some more chances this year, but I'll let the legs do the talking. I'll be ready when I'm ready."
McCarthy will likely next ride the Oceania Road Championships in Queenstown before heading to Europe for his season proper.