British Continental team look to build on Tour of South Africa success
After a successful start to the team's international campaign in South Africa, where Kristian House took home the overall honours, the Rapha Condor Sharp team return to international competition on two fronts this week.
While a confident House will lead a squad at the Tour of Normandy in France, Dean Downing will be heading up a second team at the Tour of Taiwan.
In-form House will be looking to improve on his strongest ever start to a racing season, swapping the intense heat of Africa for the rain crosswinds of the Tour of Normandy.
"After South Africa I have been pretty cautious to make sure I didn't overdo it," he explained. "I've come out of winter in great shape and after a little rest I had a good hit-out in the UK on the weekend (third at the Roy Thame Cup), and I'm really motivated to use my form at an event in Europe now.
"I've always been there or thereabouts in Normandy, the long, harder days suit me, and I think a stage win is well within my grasp there. I actually learned my trade racing in Belgium, so the gutters and the crap weather are second nature anyway."
Team manager John Herety added that the time is right for Rapha Condor Sharp to stand on the podium.
"We have been coming to the Tour of Normandy for a few years now, and there is no doubt it is a hard race – so hard in fact it is something of a rite of passage for my top riders now. But we have also seen our results and racing improve here each year and I think it is about time that our stock matured at this race, a stage win would be ideal here."
Whereas the aims in Normandy will be quite specific for the team, a revised route for the Tour of Taiwan means that the team will be waiting to see how the first few days pan out in the muggy Taiwanese heat, before working out how to emulate last year's high profile successes there.
After taking out the queen stage 2010 and battling in and out of contention for the overall (eventually finishing 6th) Downing will be motivated for this year's event and also a little cautious as a new, much hillier, route has been created for 2011.
"I had a great race last year, but the course profile has really changed for 2011," he said. "It looks like a much tougher race, with an extra two days racing, plus climbs every stage. I don't think I have my climbing legs yet, but having said that I won the toughest stage last year, so we'll see how I go. The team will be getting stuck in- same as last year, that's for sure."
The Rapha Condor Sharp team line-ups will be as follows:
Tour of Normandy (March 21st-26th): Kristian House; Dan Craven; Jon Tiernan-Locke; Casey Munro; Zak Dempster; Graham Briggs.
Tour of Taiwan (March 19th-28th): Ben Greenwood; Dean Downing; Tom Southam; James McCallum; Dean Windsor