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Talented kiwi export reinvents his ProTour career
Two years ago Hayden Roulston had disappeared into the cycling wilderness but a turnaround in fortunes means the talented kiwi has been given another chance in the ProTour peloton and he aims to make the most of it.
He last rode for a ProTour team in 2005 - the inaugural year for the UCI's racing calendar creation - after signing for Discovery Channel. Under the tutelage of Johan Bruyneel, Roulston was the hottest property in New Zealand cycling but it all went wrong soon after.
"I've done the full circle," began Roulston. "I was once in the biggest team in the world and I gave that up, my time with Discovery Channel." Roulston went back to New Zealand and withdrew from the highest echelon of the sport, citing health problems and personal issues for his decision.
He embarked on a period of returning to full health and elite riding, which saw him competing in races throughout New Zealand - it was a far cry from riding de Ronde Van Vlaanderen or Paris-Roubaix.
"Johan probably still doesn't understand why but I did the honest thing and I could have just stayed in that team and taken the money for doing nothing all year but I just decided it wasn't right and my state of mind wasn't right and I needed some time away," explained Roulston.
It soon became obvious that Roulston needed to be in the pro ranks - he outshone the local competition in New Zealand and the former scratch race world champion was still young. "I was actually talking with my manager Paul de Geyter and through him the talks [with Cervélo] came about with Scott Sunderland. We just talked and Scott knew me from the past and they wanted to give me another chance. It just rolled from there," said Roulston.
"It's one thing to say you want to go pro again but to get back in when teams are folding and the like it's difficult," he added.
But unlike his first stint as a professional - having ridden for the likes of Cofidis, HealthNet and the aforementioned Discovery Channel before 2005 - Roulston was intent on making his mark in a more permanent fashion this time round.
He did that as a part of Cervélo TestTeam's Tour de France squad, taking third on stage 14 to Besançon and announcing that the return was complete and it didn't go unnoticed. "Straight after the Tour I started talking with [HTC] Columbia and I signed as soon as possible," said Roulston.
"The Tour was the biggest highlight of last year, for sure. I didn't actually realise it was that big a race and to be there, be amongst it and have success there after so long away it just blew me away.
"Although I think the biggest highlight for me, even before last year, was getting back into the pro teams. That's not easy to do. I wanted to come back even before last year and it just didn't happen for one reason or another. And also signing for this team, HTC-Columbia, was a huge highlight," he continued.
"Outside of cycling I had the birth of my son, so a lot's been going on and last year was a pretty good year."
Until recently, Roulston and Team Sky's Greg Henderson were New Zealand's most prominent cycling exports but the 29-year-old from Ashburton says that this is certainly changing. "I could say ten riders from New Zealand who could be at the Tour de France in the next five years. The talent in New Zealand is just uptapped and I think we're only a step from developing a relationship with a pro team and it's just going to be a free-for-all," he predicted.
"Two guys that really come to my mind at the moment... one finished fourth at our nationals: Tom Findlay. He's a super talent. There's another guy, Patrick Bevan who is a great talent. There's also Jesse Sergent and Sam Bewley... it's unbelievable how much talent there is. It just blows me away.
"I hope that maybe through me there's a way in - I don't want to see that talent go to waste and I think when you're from a country like New Zealand, coming all the way to Europe and leaving family and friends behind says something. I hope I can help one of them get a foot in the door of a pro team," Roulston explained.
As for his own pro team, Roulston is finding his feet after starting the first race of the year in HTC-Columbia colours - the Santos Tour Down Under. The season holds plenty of promise for him, however. "I'm yet to find my place in the team but I'm sure I'll play a role in the leadout train; earlier in the leadout, which suits me better. There's less stress so you can do your work and get out of there," he said.
"I want to be good in the Tour again, and I think it's going to be a harder Tour this season. There's also actually a big opportunity in the Classics this year - obviously we lost George and a couple of other named riders so there's an opportunity to stand up."
He demonstrated it with his ride to Besançon at last year's Tour de France and Roulston extols the virtues of his approach to a second chance near the end of our conversation: "Hey, it only takes one day to change your career... and that's what I keep thinking about, that's what I'm going to aim for.
"I'm back, fresh and just turned 29... I want to go the whole way now. I don't want to leave any stone unturned and I think this is going to be the right team to bring that out in me."