After finding his feet last season on the Australian National Road Series, Adam Phelan’s decision to join up with the Continental Drapac Cycling Team has been a real ‘eye opener’. The team, which has been integral in helping talents like Mitch Docker and Darren Lapthorne develop over the years, have thrown Phelan in to the deep end with a racing programme on three different continents, against some of the world’s best riders.
A prologue victory in the Tour of Taiwan earlier in the year was an encouraging start to his time with the team, but the real step-up for the 20-year-old was travelling to Europe where he admits he was at least at first, a little ‘star struck’.
"Going there was a massive learning curve. These are the guys you’ve been watching race the Tour de France and other big races," said Phelan. "But you slowly realise that they’re just ‘other bike riders’, albeit really good ‘other bike riders’, and that you can compete with them.
"Then to race with 200 European professionals in 1.1 races is a big jump," he continued. "It’s really important though. You figure out how to best conserve your energy during a big race; and I’ve been able to do several races like that this year, where I’ve just been able to do just grow and learn."
Having recently returned to Australia, Phelan has translated much of his experience overseas into some pretty impressive results. He was fourth overall in the Tour of the Murray River, and nearly broke Genesys’ 2011 stranglehold on Australian stage races at the Goulburn Sydney Classic where he was narrowly beaten to the overall win by just a few hundredths of a second.
Jayco Herald Sun Tour
For Phelan however, the best is hopefully still to come. The Jayco Herald Sun Tour, Australia’s biggest stage race outside the Tour Down Under, is just around the corner and having previewed the course over the past week Phelan believes with a bit of luck he can make an impact in the race, and even if he doesn’t, someone in the team will.
"The [Jayco Herald] Sun Tour is easily the biggest race for me and probably for the whole team," said Phelan. "Ever since I was a junior I’ve always watched the [Jayco Herald] Sun Tour, and always wanted to do it.
"We’ll have a really strong team going into the race. We’ll have Lachlan Norris, who’s just returned from a stagiaire role with HTC-Highroad and he’s going really well – then we’ve also got Tom Palmer, coming off the under 23 worlds, and of course we’ve also got [former Australian champion] Darren Lapthorne. So we have plenty of options."
While acknowledging that Norris would likely be the team’s main hope for a high overall placing, Phelan added that the unpredictability of the Herald Sun Tour meant that it would be unwise to try and bank too much on any one rider.
"Apart from the sprint days where we’ll work for Tom [Palmer], it’s hard to gauge how the rest of the race will go," said Phelan. "Any of us could be up there; it’ll just depend on how it plays out. Personally, I’ll be trying to just look for opportunities in the race, breakaways and escapes. Hopefully I can have a really good stage and get a placing. It’s going to be a really high level everyday but if I can get in the right move hopefully I can do something."
A result at Jayco Herald Sun Tour would obviously be nice, but Phelan is realistic. If things don’t work out, he’s still young and undoubtedly has some big years ahead of him, and with guys like Docker forging a road to the professional level ahead of him, Phelan does at least have a path to follow.
"Guys like Mitch, who managed to finish his whole degree, and then go onto to Skil-Shimano, and now GreenEdge are really good examples for me. He’s definitely someone I can aspire to, and shows that there is a route to the upper levels of the sport."
The Jayco Herald Sun Tour starts on October 12 in Whittlesea.