Two stage wins and a new race record up the unrelenting Fujisan climb at the Tour of Japan far exceeded the expectations of Huon Salmon-Genesys Wealth Advisers squad with team director Andrew Christie-Johnston admitting the Australian outfit was a little out of its depth at the same race just 12 months ago.
However, with a 2013 team roster heralded as the "strongest ever" before the line-up was officially announced it's not that surprising to see Australia's number-one domestic team battling with the best from the Asia Tour and with the Tour de Kumano coming up, the team will no doubt look to deliver again.
The highly-demanding circuits featured at the Tour of Japan were "a bit above our level", according to Christie-Johnston when asked to look back at the race from 2012. In that edition Team Nippo dominated the field, taking home first and second on the general classification and three stages while the Tasmania outfit struggled to race at the level they have become accustomed to in the Australian National Road Series.
"The toughness of Tour of Japan was still fresh in my memory from last year," Christie-Johnston told Cyclingnews. "The level of competition especially from one team in particular and the demanding circuits was just a bit above our level."
Last year may not have panned out how the team hoped but this time Huon Salmon-Genesys fielded a five-man team capable of covering all bases in Japan and the same familiar names will stay on for Kumano.
The Australian Continental squad delivered its first blow to the Nippo duo of eventual 2013 winner Fortunato Baliani and this year's Tour de Langkawi victor and Japan's second-overall Julian Arredondo when Ben Dyball blazed past the race leader Baliani up Fujisan. The former Australian under-23 road champion took the stage win and set a new course record in the process. Last year the team's best-placed riders on that stage were Nathan Earle and Campbell Flakemore who finished four minutes down. In 2013, Dyball went 36-seconds faster than Baliani's ascent from 2012 while Earle and Jai Crawford finished inside the top-10.
"This year I believe we have the best team we have ever had, it is strong across all areas, especially climbing," added Christie-Johnston in regard to the combination of Nathan Earle, Ben Dyball and Jai Crawford that are busy readying themselves for their next outing in Kumano.
The team had a little early bad luck with Anthony Giacoppo and Joe Cooper withdrawing from the race but Christie-Johnston says the five-man squad will be back together when the four-day Tour de Kumano begins on 30 May.
"This group has raced a lot together this year and this has allowed them to bond well. They know each other's strength and weaknesses which allows them to make some smart decisions on the road. The engine of the team is Joe Copper, he is just so strong, a world class rider in the TT and can stay on the front all day. Anthony Giacoppo is the sprinter for both tours but will have to solo a bit as we don't have a dedicated lead-out train here. We have three GC riders in Nathan Earle, Ben Dyball and Jai Crawford. All are capable of winning on climbing days and know how to work well together. It is a strong a well-balanced team."
Huon Salmon-Genesys Wealth Advisers for Tour de Kumano: Joe Cooper, Jai Crawford, Ben Dyball, Nathan Earle and Anthony Giacoppo.