With the Tour of Tasmania entering the final day, the team of PureBlack Racing are close completing a full season of racing which almost didn’t happen. The NZ-based squad, which had signalled its intent on building toward a Tour de France start in 2015, ended up folding before the 2012 season began. But with the assistance of the country’s sporting organisation, Bike NZ, the team was able to rebuild, albeit on a smaller scale to what had been planned.
With a smaller budget, hurried planning and limited managerial support the squad was able to pull together a schedule that would see the tight-knit group race from February at Tour de Lankawai to one of the team’s most important objectives of the year, the Tour of Southland.
The race has an impressive list of former winners including RadioShack-Nissan’s Hayden Roulston, Gordon McCauley and last year’s winner Josh Atkins who races for the Bontrager-Livestrong team. The five-day race will begin on 28 October, three weeks following the demanding Tour of Tasmania.
"Our first race was [Tour de] Langkawi and we’ve been going flat-out on the road since that first race in Malaysia," said the team’s director John Harris to Cyclingnews.
"The problem we had was that we had to try and cover as much ground as we could. We put a huge season together so the guys could get as much exposure as possible. We had a limited budget but we needed the racing.'.
The team began the season with a roster of around 10 riders but with such a heavy schedule of racing, the Harris soon found himself short of healthy and fit riders to undertake the schedule. It’s a lesson which he’ll take into 2012 as the team looks to apply for a Continental license and bolster the team with new recruits.
"We just didn’t have the riders needed to do it. We lost some to accident and injury so we kind of ended up having guys like Roman [Van Uden] and Jimmy [James Williamson], they’ve ridden over eight tours in a short period of time. It’s been tough in that respect but next year we’ll have a bigger roster and improved roster of riders."
"We started with about 10 but we are down to around five or so now. The season has been a little bit frantic because the team stopped and then it restarted. I got the job just a week and a half before the season began. In that regard it’s been hard to have the logistics run smoothly but we’ve managed really well."
While a number of his riders have raced more days than many of the top professionals, Harris adds that the motivation and morale on the team is extremely good. Emphasis was placed on creating a team that was always keen to race, if riders weren’t happy about riding tours back to back then it wasn’t a problem. They were free to leave the squad and return home to find another job.
"I made it really clear at the beginning of the season that I’m willing to really put in for this team but if guys don’t want to race, just be honest and go home. I want guys who want to grow and move on to bigger and better things. If a rider comes to me at the end of the season and says ‘I’ve got a better team to go to’, well then, I’ve done my job," says Harris.
"The motivation has been great because the guys understand that if they win a UCI race they could get noticed and possibly look to a bigger team. It’s something I’ve really pushed throughout the year."
The Asian circuit and races in Canada and Australia may be a long way from the team’s previous incarnation and lofty dreams of riding the Tour de France however, the team has set about achieving results at every race they enter.
"We’ve probably had a better year in terms of results or just as good as last year. We won a [UCI] 2.2 [Tour of Borneo], we’ve won stages at 2.2’s [Tour of Thailand] so in that respect the team has achieved a lot considering the amount of riders we have. We just didn’t have enough bullets."
"The guys have really stepped up this year and the situation has actually been very good. The season began with a very small budget, we worked it well by riding 2.2’s because they offer a lot of support. We went to Canada and then aimed at the Scody Cup. It’s really great localised racing. I’m really wrapped with the ground we’ve covered, what we’ve won and what we have worked for."
Harris would have liked to remain in Australia and have a team entered for the upcoming one-day races including Melbourne to Warrnambool and Grafton to Inverell but with few riders and an upcoming homeland Tour, the team will return to New Zealand before finishing up the season and planning the 2013 season.
"We will go back home and rest up for a couple of weeks before Tour of Southland, that’s a big goal back there."
"Next year we will have a similar programme starting in Asia but we’ll have a little more budget, more riders including one or two Aussies and rotate the guys around. They will likely do three tours before bringing in a fresh group. Then we’ll head to Canada for Tour de Beuce and some North American races before coming to Australia for the Scody Cup."
"It’s going to be about really lifting the level of support to the riders as much as we can and using our resources in the best possible way we can," Harris told Cyclingnews.