In January, Sean Lake had a breakout performance at the Australian national championships with the 25-year-old finishing third in the time trial behind BMC duo of Rohan Dennis and Richie Porte. Fast forward to 2017 and the Avanti IsoWhey Sports rider is once again aiming for the podium after his first full season of European racing.
"I have changed quite a lot since this time last year with bike set up and positioning all completely different with a lot more time to refine it to without doing anything major in the wind tunnel. My body as well is a lot more used to it and since I got back from our overseas trip this year I have managed to lose a few kilos as well, which on this time trial course should help quite a lot," Lake told Cyclingnews mid-way through a double training session day of his preparation for the January 5 event.
"I have changed quite a lot since this time last year with bike set up and positioning all completely different with a lot more time to refine it to without doing anything major in the wind tunnel. My body as well is a lot more used to it and since I got back from our overseas trip this year I have managed to lose a few kilos as well, which on this time trial course should help quite a lot. I think my position is quite a lot better than this time last year, I am quite a bit lighter than this time last year and hopefully, power is very similar. All things considered, I am quite excited with where I am at what performance I can do relative to last year."
Lake was a late comer to cycling, swapping the oars for the pedals in his early 20s after a promising rowing career that included world championship appearances and Olympic aspirations. Having now ridden at the Continental level for two-year years, Lake's body has further adapted to the demands of cycling and time trialing which he hopes will lead to further improvements against the clock.
"It goes with my shoulder flexible and coming from the rowing background I was really tight and unable to have the pads close together and shrug my shoulders close together and get my head low," he said of the major changes to his time trial position. "There was too much muscle in the way and structurally as well so as my body as changed I am able to get my shoulders closer to together and change the bike as well along with getting my head lower to reduce that surface area."
2017 will be the third time the Buninyong course will decide the Australian time trial title and the third time Lake has also lined up for a shot at the green and gold. The out-and-back course is a challenging affair with pacing key to success and as Lake explained, previous experience is crucial to a high result.
"It is all about how much you vary the power on the hills out and back, as on the way back there are quite a few tough ones so if you don't have enough left in the tank you could lose quite a bit of time on some of those nasty little times," he said. "With varying the power you also get lots aero tucks and recovery time with knowing it really well and what you are doing on all those sectors really makes a difference."
It won't just be the BMC duo of Dennis and Porte that Lake will be against in 2017 with the American team adding Miles Scotson to its books. Scotson, a recent U23 Worlds time trial bronze medallist, won the U23 national title in 2015 and be one of several WorldTour rivals for Lake. However, the Victorian isn't waisting time or energy focusing on the start list.
"Those guys and I am sure Orica will have a couple of good guys gunning for it as always. There will be super, super hot competition of course, which is great. But I like to think if I was to compare to last year, I would say the changes and improvement could put me in a very competitive spot with those guys. Knowing they are world-class athletes they can always come and go a lot faster so I'll keep the focus on my process, and what I can do," he said.
2017 aims and aspirations
Lake's third place at the nationals helped seal a place on the UniSA-Australia wildcard team at the 2016 Tour Down Under, instantly impressing by claiming the first KOM jersey of the race. He is again targeting a place on the wild card team, along with starts at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (January 29), and the Herald Sun Tour (February 1-5) for a full quote of the 'Australian summer of cycling'.
"It is our biggest and most exciting opportunity of the year with the Australian summer of racing. It was super special to represent the UniSA-Australia team at Tour Down Under and I'd love to do it again. To get a go at Cadels and Sun Tour, which is a very exciting course and a race I love being in Melbourne and I would love to do all that. There is lots of motivation at this time of the year," said Lake, who added that his focus on the time trial is more likely to help than hinder his road racing.
"If I am going well for the time trial I will be in a good position for my road racing with the way my body is and my style of how I could win a race. The time trial efforts and training is my ideal preparation anyway. I plan to be in my best possible form for all the summer racing and then look at a second peak for some later races in the year. There is a major focus on the time trial and all the road racing at the start of the year."
Lake's team Avanti IsoWhey Sports will be race under a new name in 2017 with Avanti announcing it will be withdrawing its sponsorship at the end of 2016. However, the team almost wasn't with only the hard work and dedication of co-owners securing its existence for at least another season.
"It is always a worry hearing about sponsors withdrawing and what had happened to a lot of teams. It has been a really tough year for the market but just knowing the guys behind the Avanti team and how much work they put into it, and they were committed to making sure it works, I was pretty confident in them and the team that it would be sorted out," Lake said. "Even if things aren't going to be glamorous and there could be some budget cuts and this that and the other, I was confident it would come together and be would be able to have another good year."
During his stint of European racing, Lake went for testing with the Etixx-QuickStep team who displayed interested in his talents. In the end, the team decided against signing Lake while there "no concrete interest" from other WorldTour teams.
"Hopefully I was fairly close but I don't think I was super close to making that step up this year. My early season form was good but maybe the teams were expecting more results in Europe but it is very different and tough style of racing to step into and expect to get results off the bat," said Lake.
Having only turned 25 earlier this week, Lake has time on his side to make the jump up to the WorldTour. Which is sure to be helped along by his desire to consistency refine and enhance his skills.
"Being fairly fresh to the sport still, I like to think I am still learning heaps and this year was just a great learning exercise and I have changed a lot as a rider. Not just the time trialing but the road racing with bunch skills, tactics, saving energy and so on, I like to think I am constantly learning and hopefully I can put together some better stuff next year," he said. "I think what makes a really good bike rider is always learning, adapting and changing and looking to improve and taking it all on-board. I like to think I am doing that and I don't make the same mistake twice."