Many of Australia’s top road racers are entering the professional ranks via the Jayco-AIS-World Tour Academy team for under 23 riders. From last year’s line up sprinter Caleb Ewan is now riding for Orica-GreenEdge, while world under 23 time trial champion Campbell Flakemore is with BMC. And for next year, Orica-GreenEdge have already signed climbers Rob Power and Jack Haig and track endurance star-cum-road racer Alex Edmondson who will focus on the road after next yea's Olympics. Jayco-AIS-World Tour Academy began its European season last weekend in Italy with Edmondson winning their second race - the Grand Prix Rancilio on Sunday. Rupert Guinness spoke with team head sports director James Victor about the win and the team’s vision.
Rupert Guinness: It's a been a great season start for Jayco-AIS-World Tour Academy with Alex Edmondson winning Sunday's Grand Prix Rancilio …
James Victor: They [Edmondson and Miles Scotson] cleaned up really well. It was pretty much a flat open criterium that suited them and their finishing ability. It wasn't a big race in the grand scheme of things but first race, new bikes, trying to get settled and with the races pretty close to the team base [in Gavirate, Italy], it made sense to chase a couple of early races and help their confidence. There were other teams trying to put pressure on us to bring a break back that went out to four minutes; but there was plenty of time and the guys were always committed to putting Miles into a good position to have Alex come off his wheel. There is a lot more pressure and expectation for the next month … So for the guys to gel so well on Sunday, and to put a sprint train in place and come with a win … it's great for the team's confidence.
We now head some bigger races over Easter [Ed: Those races are: Sunday – Trofeo Piva, Monday – Giro del Belvedere, and Tuesday – Grand Prix Palio del Recioto), the Nations Cup – the classics - and then the Tour de Bretagne (April 25-May 1)
RG: Edmondson and Scotson didn't race Saturday's Milano-Busseto, but the team was active especially with Rob Power and Jack Haig near the finish …
JV: The five pure road guys were really good. The last 50km was flat, so without having a sprinter there they tried to mix it up. Rob and Jack certainly showed they are in really good shape for next month. They are sort of at a different level. They are not going to do Flanders (April 11) because the two bigger races after that – La Côte Picarde (April 15) and Liege-Bastogne-Liege (April 18) – suit their abilities a lot better. You tend to run a little bit of risk on the Flanders course, not so much with how aggressive the racing is but the course. The Tour de Bretagne is a long, hard, aggressive week of racing. They will be putting some expectation on themselves. For them and Alex, this year is about preparing for that step up to Orica-GreenEdge.
RG: With Edmondson, their futures are secure next year. How do you keep them motivated this year while also developing younger and new recruits in the team?
JV: Next year [Power, Haig and, after the Olympics, Edmondson] won't find themselves in leadership scenarios. So that is the responsibility I want to put on these guys this year. Oscar Stevenson is a new guy in the group and we will have a big turnover into next year's group, but the guys who are here for their second or third year … I would like to put some responsibility on them to let them lead the group and make decisions out on the road. We can't use radios in race. You can come up with plans, but plans need to change out on the road sometimes and that takes leadership. In four to five years' time Jack, Rob and Alex will find themselves in leadership opportunities, so the quicker they can start to learn that and take on that responsibility … They are looking forward to that opportunity. And the way we finished last year – particularly with Rob's second in the Tour de l'Avenir and some one day races – they know they are competitive in Under 23 races. So now it’s taking on the expectation.
RG: Is there more to the team's goal than helping riders become professionals?
JV: It's a growing up process for the boys too. If they can get here out of juniors as Rob did last year as an 18-year-old, he is not going to be steered in a slightly different direction, then need to be re-directed when he does get an opportunity here. So the younger they can get here - and it's not putting the families down – but [having] the family, friends, coaches and all sorts of people back in Australia telling them how good they are … The reality is over here and standing on their own two feet. It's that psychological responsibility … [where] they have to look in the mirror and go, 'I need to get on with this otherwise I'll go back to Australia and find something else to do.' This a big opportunity. Gerry Ryan and Jayco have helped us significantly to keep this structure and program from what [Victor's predecessor] Brian Stephens left.
RG: What are expectations for the others besides Power, Haig and Edmondson?
JV: Harry Carpenter is the Oceania time trial champion for the last two years. He had a really good start last year, but then in the back half of the year – his first year over here – his health wasn't great and his form drifted away. He is in his second year and ready to take on some responsibility, as is Alex Clements. As much as they present themselves as good domestiques … it is about making sure that their head space is right so they understand they haven't got a contract in place now and this is what the program is about. Again, it is putting it back on them. If this is what they want to do for the next five or 10 years, they can step up and keep moving forward.
Oscar - in his first season - understands he has a lot to learn. He has never raced here as a junior. It is a big eye opener for him. After Saturday's race he said, 'This Italian racing is really sketchy' I said, 'Mate … get used to it because this is week-in, week-out. Everyone wants to take the next step and as soon as there is an opportunity, they are going to push and shove.' If he does everything right to learn as much as he can this year, he will be expected to be one of the leaders of the group next year. He knows what we want and has a good group to learn from. He will hit a purple patch this year and an opportunity to chase some results himself.
RG: Are the classics [Nations Cup races], Tour de L'Avenir and world titles, the three key periods of the team's season? Or are there more goals than that?
JV: We have been pretty consistent at the worlds over the last five years. Out of 10 races we have nailed nine medals. To do that over the last week of the international season is always a challenge. But the bigger carrot is a professional career and they know that comes from consistency throughout the season. That's about taking on pressure and expectation right throughout the season. We are doing the Giro Valle d'Aosta for the first time in four years in the middle of July. It is around Mont Blanc and some pretty high mountains – the last stage I found out the other day finishes on the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard. That race was deliberately put in [the program] for Jack and Rob's development rather than worrying too much about the worlds – the worlds course doesn't suit those two boys.
But purely for their development and the way they climb, we have chased Giro Valle d'Aosta (July 14-19) to get a start which is only a couple of weeks out from the Tour d'Alsace (July 28-August 3) and Tour de l'Avenir (August 23-30). They are three big stage races that suit the quality of the group this year. There are opportunities for Alex … we have a team time trial coming, some prologues, a couple of flatter stages and world championships [in Richmond, USA, September 21-15]. Alex and Miles are probably suited to the [worlds'] course.
Rupert Guinness is a sports writer on The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)