Australian-based UCI Continental squad V Australia will begin its season Stateside at the National Racing Calendar (NRC) opener, the Redlands Bicycle Classic, held from March 31 to April 3 in California. The 15-man team will target the majority of NRC events this season, in addition to select stage races in Asia.
"We've got some very good sprinters and we will try and get them on the podium as much as we can," said directeur sportif Henk Vogels. "Obviously losing Ben Day left a hole but we have one or two guys that can step up into that role with [Darren] Rolfe and [Johnny] Walker. We want to try and win as many races as possible over here."
The season's roster includes Walker and Rolfe, plus Jonathan Cantwell, Bernie Sulzberger, Christopher Winn, Taylor Sheldon, Sean Sullivan, Hayden Brooks, Ben Kersten, Michael Freiberg, Cameron Peterson, Nick Walker, Zach Davies and Scott Law.
Rolfe, former Australian national time trial champion and runner up at the Tour de Beauce, will lead the team at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. The eight-man team for that event includes Cantwell, Sulzberger, Winn, Sheldon, Sullivan, Brooks and Peterson.
"We have a couple of guys here capable of winning Redlands; it just depends on how the GC goes because there are so many time bonuses up for grabs," Vogels said. "We will have to stay within striking distance of the best five guys. Beaumont [stage two] is harder and Sunset [stage four] is always hard to defend, it is a very hard race to control and my guys will be animated this week."
Noticeably absent from the team's full roster is recent San Dimas winner and Redlands Bicycle Classic defending champion Ben Day, who found a home with the Kenda/5-hour Energy outfit for the 2011 season after his contract with the proposed Pegasus Sports ProTeam fell through.
"It feels a little strange to be at a race like this and Day is on another team," Vogels said. "I classify him as being one of my riders even if he's on another team. He is a very good friend of mine and we were sad that we couldn't make it happen for him this year. We are moving on and giving some other guys a chance. I wish him all the best, a good deal of luck... just not too much success," he joked.
Pegasus Sports CEO Chris White signed eight of his Fly V Australia riders from last year to the proposed Pegasus Sports squad. The riders included Day, Sulzberger, Cantwell, Kemps, Jai Crawford, Darren Lill, Jay Thomson and Phil Zajicek.
The sport's governing body denied Pegasus Sports a license when it failed to secure title sponsorship and the riders were forced to look for jobs elsewhere. Some riders rejoined the V Australia program. "This team was never in jeopardy, we just had to swap some riders around," said Vogels. "We had to fold some of the Pegasus Sports riders into V Australia. Our team has never been an issue."
Last year, Fly V Australia won the NRC team title but that will not be the main goal this season. According to Vogels, the squad's main focus is to win the UCI 1.HC TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championships, held on June 5 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In addition, it will compete in many of the NRC events along with select UCI stage races in Asia, such as the UCI 2.1 Tour of China, plus 2.HC-ranked Tour of Qinghai Lake and Tour of Hainan.
"We are going to come out and say we are not going to try and defend it mainly because we won't be able to do all of the NRC races," Vogels said. "We will be at about 90 percent of them and focus on winning as many as we can over here. We will be doing some stuff in Asia too. The NRC takes care of itself once you are at the races. If we are close at the end of the year than we will reassess whether or not we chase the win."