Nathan Earle says that 2018 will be the biggest season of his professional career so far as he looks to get it back on track. After dropping down to Continental level, Earle will return to Pro Continental racing next year, with Israel Cycling Academy representing the way back.
The past 12 months have been tough for the Tasmanian, but making it out the other side is a huge morale boost. "It's unbelievable. It just shows that hard work and persistence pays off most of the time," Earle told Cyclingnews at a team bonding camp last month.
"There are no free pass-outs in this sport so it's all the hard work that gets you to where you are, and it's the same with all the guys on the team. I think it's super motivating to come into this team - being able to turn my career around and being able to get back to this level of racing is so exciting. Next year is going to be the biggest year ever."
This time last year Earle's career was in the balance after the Drapac Pro Continental squad joined forces with the Cannondale WorldTour team. Only a select few from Drapac secured contracts with the Slipstream set-up and Earle was not among them. Unfortunately, the news came late and he had to step down a level to ensure he had a contract. Despite the circumstances, he does not feel any animosity.
"It's easy to get angry at everyone and the circumstances, but it's like my mother told me many years ago, 'don't ever become a victim of your circumstances'," he said. "There are many great athletes out there that don't have a job for next year and it's just one of the unfortunate sides of the sport that there aren't enough jobs to go around.
"Luckily, I was signed by Team Ukyo. It was a smaller team and I didn't want to go to a small team but you're only as good as the job someone will give you. I was very grateful to them for signing me late and they provided me with a great year."
Following a stint racing in Australia, which he credits with helping him make his return to Pro Continental racing, Earle spent most of the season competing in Asia. The year brought some success with stages and the overall win at the inaugural Tour de Lombok and second overall at the Tour of Japan (behind teammate Oscar Pujol).
Finding the passion
It wasn't just about finding the contract, or scoring a few good results, but rediscovering the passion for racing. Earle says that his two-year stint at Team Sky did some damage in that respect. He told Cyclingnews that the style of riding was not what got his pulse racing and explained that he could see from a long way out that his place within the team would not go beyond his initial neo-pro contract.
"I used to be passionate about the sport and that had kind of gone away a bit, because I wasn't really racing the style of racing that had got me to the professional level in the first place so it took me a while to discover myself again," Earle said of his move from Team Sky to Drapac at the end of 2015.
"Being at Team Sky where it was very robotic and a very mechanical team, and being one of the guys at the bottom of the rung on that team, I was personally lacking that sense of importance and belonging. I was just a number that did a job and was very disposable. I felt from the beginning that it was only going to be a two-year thing. That's not a nice thing. I think that you get the best out of an athlete when they really feel welcome and truly part of the team. That's what is important for me in the rest of my career."
Earle has a two-year deal with the Israel Cycling Academy and, after spending time with his new team at their bonding camp in Israel, he'd like to be around even longer than that. At 29, Earle sits in the middle of the team's age range and hopes to lend his experience to the younger members while learning from the elders.
"I think it will be a bit of a balanced role. I will be helping a little bit," he explained. "There are some talented guys in the team and it depends on what races we do. Obviously, Ben Hermans is a pretty special rider and there are some older riders on the team - luckily I'm not the oldest - that I can still learn things from."
After a challenging few years, Earle is raring to go, full of confidence this winter and heading towards the 2018 season with some big ambitions.
"I think that I'm the strongest I've ever been in terms of endurance and everything really," he said. "We haven't got our race schedule yet but if we do the Giro it would be a massive goal to be in that squad. I'd like to have a race programme that builds towards that and to be in the mix for that squad.
"It sounds like we might be doing some of the Australian races like the Cadel Evans race and the Herald Sun Tour, so it would just be the nationals and those two races where I would like to kick off with a win in January and get the morale up and show some of the guys Australia who haven't been there before."