Jonathan Cantwell has a lot to be thankful for this year. After being part of the failed Pegasus project in 2010 the likelihood of obtaining another contract for the 2011 season were slim. The rider from Brisbane rode out the 2011 year on a limited schedule of races but during a time of mergers and teams folding, things weren’t looking so good for the talented sprinter.
"I'm not 22 or 25 anymore I thought ‘do I want to keep racing in America and have all these hurdles put in my way?’ It's not good for me or for my family," Cantwell told Cyclingnews.
It was largely in part to his connection with Saxo Bank-Tinkoff’s sports director Nick Gates that Cantwell signed a contract to ride with the ProTeam for 2012. Gates played an important role in setting up the chance for Cantwell to prove himself at the sport’s highest level.
"Nick had been saying ‘look this guy deserves a shot’. They saw me at the Sun Tour and I spoke with Brad McGee but Nick was the main guy who put my name forward and said 'listen I believe in this guy and I want to give him an opportunity’. The tables turned for me. I can’t be any happier to have this opportunity," he said.
Despite being 30-years-old he’s a first-year rookie to the WorldTour. Cantwell completed his first grand tour at the Tour de France and shortly after riding into Paris, came close to his first European victory at Paris-Corrèze - taking second-place in the opening stage. It’s been a season of highs and lows but Cantwell is grateful for the chance he’s been given.
Having his name included in the long-list of riders for the Tour was a huge motivator for Cantwell who was passed "the inside word" of his Tour start. He rode through his ‘make or break’ test at the Critérium du Dauphiné and trained like he was a certainty to begin his first grand tour.
"I was doing seven-hour days back to back with the idea in my mind that I was training for the Tour... I started to get better as the days passed leading up to the Tour - and even as the Tour progressed."
"I really didn’t start to feel tired until we went through the last couple of mountain days," he said.
Cantwell attributed his freshness leading up and during the Tour to his early season crash and time spent away from training and racing. While he took just two weeks off the bike earlier in the year it meant he came into the Tour without "being overdone".
"I’ve finished the Tour in pretty good form. A lot of guys come out smashed and have to take a lot of time off the bike. I had a couple of days [off] but I’m pretty confident of being in good for my upcoming races."
His program is planned out for the next six weeks and with a good mix of tough one-day races, Cantwell is looking forward to getting some results on the board. The Vattenfall Cyclassics in Germany is his next target and with a few Aussies like Luke Roberts and David Tanner possibly included in the line-up, he believes he’s got a good chance at turning his numerous top-ten finishes into a victory.
"Nick [Gates] says this race is perfect for me. It’s got a couple of little hills in it but I should be ok."
Understanding this has largely been a year of learning, Cantwell is pleased with how the team has supported him throughout the season. Cantwell is hopeful that with the additional stability provided with recent sponsor Tinkoff Bank, that he’ll be given a place in the team once again for the 2013 season.
"Being on this team, in my first year and to get a start at the Tour is almost unheard of. We had a good tour, I’m pretty wrapped."
Asked about his plans following the 2012 season, Cantwell said he did not have anything to announce but knows this is the time, following the Tour when decisions begin to take shape. He is however, more than happy with the idea of remaining with Saxo Bank-Tinkoff - if the opportunity once again shows itself.
"My number one choice would be to stay here with Bjarn [Riss] and Nick because I’m a loyal rider and they have given me this opportunity, first, out of anybody. So, I would love to stay with the team, for sure."