He's an Olympic gold medallist, a Tour Down Under stage winner, a Tour de France rider and a child of the 'golden generation' of Australian cycling, but Luke Roberts has only just returned to the ProTour ranks after a two-year hiatus.
In that time there was bad luck and injury that kept him relegated to Professional Continental squad Kuota Senges (Kuota-Indeland) during 2008 and 2009, as a broken hip early last season meant he missed a significant amount of racing in Europe.
The situation began to derail plans Roberts had set as he neared the later stages of his career. "I thought that at the end of my career I'd do a few years solely concentrating on the six-day races in Europe over the winter when I was done on the road," said Roberts. "I knew I could switch back to that because it has a lot more to do with experience than strength.
“I wanted that to be at the end of my career but it started happening sooner than I thought - I found myself only doing six-day racing at 31," he explained. "I knew there was more I could do on the road and I could do better - it was just a matter of getting the chance to do that and when this came through [an offer from Milram] I thought, 'Now's the time, 100 percent'."
Roberts is well known in Germany and when he embarked on a mission to be signed by a ProTour team, he didn't need to look far beyond his doorstep. "I went down to the EuroBike show in Friedrichshafen and spent the day there on the hunt for a new contract through some of the contacts I had. A friend of mine works for SRAM as a sponsor manager and while I was visiting him at the SRAM stand I got to meet some of the directors at Team Milram, which got the ball rolling," said Roberts.
"Mid-September I spoke with team management - we discussed what they were looking for in a rider and what I could offer them. It seemed a good fit, having lived in Germany for several years and speaking the language. I think it was the shortest meeting the boss had ever had,” he added. "We left there with my signature on a contract and he said, 'That went well - it was pretty fast. You know what you wanted and I know what I wanted... and it was done'."
Roberts' pedigree on the track puts him in the league of some of the world's best lead-out men, including fellow Australian Brett Lancaster, who came in for high praise during his years riding in service of Alessandro Petacchi. Roberts now has the opportunity to test his legs working for Gerald Ciolek, Milram's prized sprinter.
"It was first time I had personally sat down with a director and spoke about what I could offer - I think during my years at CSC I wasn't really doing the job I was suited to; ideally I'd be doing the last couple of kilometres looking after a sprinter and CSC wasn't really a team that took control of races in the final for a sprint. To now be on a team with good sprinters and a team that wants to take control, I'll be happy to jump in there and do the job," he explained.
The Adelaide native, who returns to home turf for next week's Tour Down Under, is one of four Australians making their way back to the ProTour ranks. All accomplished and talented riders, the quartet is essentially the victim of tough times in an economic environment that can be hostile to professional athletes looking for a place to ply their trade.
"I think it's tough now for all teams with the Global Financial Crisis hitting hard and the last few years have been tough for all teams to continue. The couple of new squads starting this year - Sky and RadioShack - has helped boost cycling and stimulate the market for riders,” he said. "You can see it in the fact that there are four Australians back in ProTour teams that have also been in my situation.
“For Scott Davis, Matt Wilson, Baden Cooke and myself the last couple of years have been pretty lean - we were searching for a place to ride and now it seems to be getting better this year. Those guys will be out there to make the most of it, as will I," said Roberts.
Roberts explained that he must remain vigilant during his return to the big leagues, starting with a strong performance at the Tour Down Under. "It's really important for us to get off to a good start here in Adelaide - the contract with Milram is up at the end of this year; they haven't said they won't continue but they haven't said they will... so for us to try and keep sponsor or find a new one we've really got to get the season off to a good start," he said.
"I've ridden this race in every edition bar three so I know it well and I've lived here for much of my life so I know all the roads well," he said. "I'll be looking to make sure we can use every bit of power we've got to achieve the best result we can."