Pat Shaw will be attempting to defend his Tour of Gippsland title, the event starting next Wednesday in Victoria set to kick off the race for the 2011 Scody Cup.
Shaw, who also won the Scody Cup last season, will be one of the favourites for the 520 kilometre tour, with his team Genesys Pro Cycling proving a dominant force over the opening rounds of Australia's National Road Series. After three events, the Tours of Mersey Valley, Canberra and Toowomba, Shaw and his teammate Nathan Haas from the Orange Army sit on top of the NRS rankings on 160 and 235 points respectively. Another Genesys rider, Steele Von Hoff is next best on 85 with Jayco-2XU's Glenn O'Shea providing some relief from the domination in fourth place with 65 points from the Tour of Canberra.
Twenty-four-year-old Shaw told Cyclingnews that it was no surprise that Genesys were so prominent, given the amount of options available to take stage wins.
"I think that's something where we have an advantage, that we have several strong riders not just one or two, there's probably up to six cards for us in Gippsland depending on how it unfolds," he explained.
As for his own form, Shaw is confident, saying that it's on par, if not better than what he produced in 2010 where he took out the event without winning a stage.
"But whether that means anything for how I'll go this year I don't know because the level is rising all the time in these races and it makes it more difficult being heavily marked in a lot of the races," he said.
With a handful of teams in the NRS able to come up with the goods for overall honours, the result is fast and furious racing, dominated by breakaways. Within those teams are several podium contenders so the bunch needs to be alert at all times; frankly it's stressful racing.
"The competition knows that if they're following me, they're missing out on two or three other riders that can go up the road and do some damage or vice versa," Shaw said.
Shaw joined Genesys for the start of the 2011 season after his previous squad, Virgin Blue-RBS Morgans folded, a casualty of owner Chris White's failed bid for Australia's first-ever UCI ProTour team. Out of its ashes came Jayco-2XU with both athletes and management, including Pat Jonker, making the switch but Shaw claims he was not wanted.
"There might have been an option with Pat Jonker but as far as the rest of the contingency of the layout of what was RBS-Morgans last year which was Chris White, he was never interested in having me on board," Shaw admitted. "I don't think the current owner was either. I didn't really want to stay there anyway because I didn't really enjoy the experience. Being with Pat Jonker and the riders of the team was really good but the other part of it wasn't as enjoyable as I would have hoped."
Shaw, who recently became a father to baby Carter, said that on-going support and encouragement from Genesys team manager Andrew Christie-Johnson made the decision to ride in orange in 2011, an easy one.
"He [Christie-Johnson] had always come up to me at races regardless of whether I'd ridden well, he was always supportive of me and I thought that was pretty big," the Ballarat rider said. "Coming into the team this year I've just seen even more of that. You don't continue and survive in this sport of cycling unless you're a people person and a good worker. We don't have to worry about anything – it's just a superb structure and a really well organised outfit and there's just no stresses. He always makes sure that the riders are coming first."
The NRS and the Scody Cup have proved to be launching pads for Australian riders looking to step up into European and or professional racing – but not so for Shaw, who came away from the end of last season knowing he would be spending 2011 racing back home.
"A lot of the teams that I spoke with guaranteed things and then said, no we can do it, it in the end," he told Cyclingnews. "At the same time I've got a wife and child at home that I need to consider as well – you can't just go and do whatever you please. It was going to be difficult to go to Europe this year regardless, my son was born in March so it was a busy period of my life and it was good to have the opportunity to be at home.
"True, I am the first NRS and Scody Cup champion in five years that hasn't gone pro, but I don't see that as a negative thing, and under different circumstances it definitely could have happened."
For now, Shaw's focus remains on the NRS and perhaps back-to-back wins in the Scody Cup with his focus firmly on getting results with his Genesys team.
"This year we've been the most exciting team to watch," he said. "We've performed not only on the flat stages, but on hill stages, time trials, criteriums so for the public we're entertaining as well as getting results. It's not about getting results and being boring – I think we do it in a smart and attractive way."
The 2011 Tour of Gippsland begins with a 33 kilometre criterium around Wonthaggi on Wednesday. Genesys will be lead by Shaw in a team consisting of former Silence Lotto professional, new signing Nic Sanderson, Van Hoff, Haas, Anthony Giacoppo, Kyle Marwood, Jason Rigg, and Kane Walker.