Sean Lake announced himself to as a rider to watch at the Australian national championships, for those yet unfamiliar with the 24-year-old's exploits in the National Road Series (NRS), as he finished third in the time trial behind the BMC duo of Rohan Dennis and Richie Porte.
The performance contributed to the Avanti Isowhey Sports rider earning himself a start at the Tour Down Under with the UniSA-Australia wild card team, making the stage 1 breakaway to claim the first king of the mountains jersey. The month was closed out with Lake's second appearance at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
With no return to the Herald Sun Tour last month, having ridden Australia's oldest stage race in 2015 with African Wildlife Safaris finishing 37th, Lake knuckled down and centred his focus on the Oceania Championships time trial. The race was won by Orica-GreenEdge's Michael Hepburn last year who is in London racing the Track World Championships and will forgo his title defence as a result.
Cyclingnews spoke with Lake on the eve of the Oceanias, asking if he has had a chance to reflect on his January performances.
"I was really happy with how January went, especially that nationals time trial which was a real eye opener for me how I can actually go in that discipline now that I've started to get things like my position and how I ride the courses a lot better. That was really exciting for me and having the experience of racing the Tour Down Under was huge. I learnt a lot there," Lake recounted.
While Lake's place on the Ballarat nationals podium may have surprised a few, the former rower became an oft-mentioned name across the Australian summer following his ride.
"I was a little bit surprised myself with the time trial that the result actually came, not so much my numbers and how I went about it," Lake said of whether he surprised himself with his January performances. "I knew I could do that but I didn't know how competitive I could be with those top-level guys. Same thing on that first day, I was a little bit surprised with how competitive I could be with those guys but it was really good fun to give it a crack against them."
Working with Mark Fenner and Avanti since joining the team for 2016 has provided Lake with a greater appreciation for time trialling, and with it, improvement against the clock as he explained.
"The first time trials I was doing in terms of approaching them, the pacing strategy was very much sit on one power and I was doing the same thing uphills, downhills, the whole time ... Whereas you can actually go a lot faster if you put the power on when you're going slower. As well at that, my position's changed quite a lot from when I first started out," said Lake, pinpointing the changes in approach. "I guess realising how many of those little things that you can concentrate on, how much of a difference they can make. Which I didn't realise at first, I just had the belief it was all about how much power you can put out. Now I know there is lot more to it with those little things you can concentrate on."
Describing his approach to Oceanias as "pretty similar" to the nationals, Lake added "my power is a little bit better and my position is a little bit better again having made a few changes from nationals. I am really excited about how I go."
With those improvements, it no surprise that there is little ambiguity in Lake's answer when asked of his ambition in the 30km time trial and what victory would mean.
"I am definitely aiming to win the time trial. There will be some good competition, especially my teammate Joe Cooper, it will be a really good battle there, which I am looking forward to," he said of the 2014 winner. "It would be huge, I still have very few wins in time trials and haven't won one at a good solid level. That would be huge for me and there is quite a quality field so it would be a result that I am hungry for."
Regardless of his result against the clock, Lake is set for his first stint of overseas racing next month as Avanti head to North America for a block of racing.
"After Oceanias there is a good little training block through March, maybe some local club racing, then in April as a team with Avanti we are going over to America for some races for basically the whole month," he said. "That should be a really good opportunity to race some high level races and get some more experience with the team."
Click here for the 2016 Oceania Championships time trial start list and start times