Nearly six months after quitting the Omega Pharma-Lotto team by mutual consent, Matt Lloyd is finally making his long-awaited return to competitive racing, albeit in a national team, at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. After a European summer that revolved around rebuilding his core muscles and rehabilitating the injuries to his shoulder and spine at the AIS base in Italy, the 29-year-old is now fitter than ever and perhaps more importantly, his hunger for racing has well and truly returned.
"It was really good to get the opportunity to look in retrospect, and reflect," said Lloyd. "I was able to re-think where I needed to be, and I think I’m now there. I’m more motivated now than I’ve ever been which is great."
"And from what I can tell through the different data, and the testing I’ve been doing, I’d say the form looks quite good at the moment as well. The first few days back racing are always going to be slow getting into it, just in terms of getting used to what’s going on, but I’m feeling comfortable, and I’m injury free."
Fond memories of Buninyong
Lloyd will be supported in Victoria by a national team bulging with quality including Cameron Wurf, who's currently racing at the Tour of Beijing, as well as friend and potential future GreenEdge teammate Wes Sulzberger.
Not that the former Lotto rider will necessarily need the help. As he's shown in previous years when he's on song - he’s a hard man to beat. At the 2008 Australian Road Championships he surprised a number of the pre-race favourites to take out his first and only national title soloing away to a career-defining win in Buninyong. The 'Sun Tour' will pass through the very same roads in 2011, and as Lloyd admits, it’s an area - and a race that is close to his heart.
"The Sun Tour was probably the first ‘bigger’ race that I ever did back in 2004. Then being fortunate enough to win quite a few stages over the years, and my first KOM jersey, the race really holds a special significance. To also have it as my first race back just makes the motivation that much more."
The 2010 Giro d’Italia King of the Mountains winner also explained that despite popular belief the race may not be decided on Arthurs Seat at all, citing the Jayco Herald Sun Tour’s penchant for breaks gaining big time on the early stages.
"The course and the characteristics of it are a bit more challenging than people anticipate I think," Lloyd said. "Having ridden around that area, the terrain is much more undulating than flat, and I think given the quality of the field, there’s plenty of potential for the race to split up – even early on.
"If you’re going for GC you have to be really attentive or you could lose the race. For a climber like myself, Arthurs Seat obviously has extra importance, because the race is almost guaranteed to break up there. Having said that, you still have to place yourself in the position to win the race - particularly at a race like Sun Tour."
If the Australian can ride a smart race, he must be considered a favourite to win the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, particularly as the race has abandoned the penultimate day time trial that has been included in previous years. The perfect way to re-enter the sport would be with a win, but despite his pedigree and experience, a modest Lloyd remained non-committal about his aspirations.
"It’s not just about having the form, you have to be following the right moves in the first couple of days and keep yourself in contention. After that, then we’ll see what happens."
Pat Jonker directed Australian national team: Matt Lloyd (Aus), Wes Sulzberger (Aus), Cameron Wurf (Aus), Joe Lewis (Aus), Ben Hill (Aus), Jack Anderson (Aus)
Jayco Herald Sun Tour starts on Wednesday, October 12.