Cannondale-Drapac may head into the Tour Down Under without their Australian talisman, Simon Clarke, but the WorldTour team will still line-up with one of the best-equipped squads in this year’s race.
In Tom Jelte Slagter they have a former winner, while Michael Woods and Patrick Bevin both cracked the top ten in 2016, and with Tom Southam conducting tactics they possess one of the youngest up-and-coming directeur sportifs in the peloton.
"I'd like to think that we can put someone on the podium," he told Cyclingnews on Thursday morning as his team prepared for training.
"Last year Woods was fifth and it was his first WorldTour race. He was very green then. He's now got a season of racing under his belt. Tom wasn't in the team last year and Paddy Bevin was tenth last year. He's come back to this race as a better rider. So a podium is a realistic possibility and that would be a success."
Cannondale merged with Drapac at the start of the year with Southam coming across as part of the deal. A relatively modest pro who surfed the Pro-Continental and Continental ranks as a rider, he has excelled as a directeur since hanging up his wheels. He steered the Drapac team to a stage win at the Tour Down Under in 2015 – the last team outside of the WorldTour to win a stage – but now finds himself with a team stacked with talent. Instead of managing the plucky underdogs, he's now charged with consistent success.
"At Drapac we were going for whatever we could get. It was a different mentality on that team although we still set the bar quite high. We came here in the first year wanting to win a stage, which was quite a lofty ambition for a Pro-Conti squad. Coming here in 2017 with Cannondale Drapac, it's very different because you need a more detailed plan and you’re dealing with legitimate winners like Tom Slagter. The difference between having a guy who has won the race to guys who were hoping to get some sort of result at some point, is massive."
Southam's development in management may have been gradual but each step has been measured. He first directed at Rapha Condor for a short period. When the chance of joining Drapac in 2015 came about he sought the advice of friend and now colleague, Charly Wegelius, and the pair hold similar qualities. Both rode well in the service of others during their careers; both know how to read a race brilliantly; and both of course rode for Great Britain during the infamous Madrid Worlds in 2005. And Southam, like Wegelius carries an air of calm about him, a feature that riders greatly appreciate in a sport that comes with enough tension and pressure.
"You do the job as best you can but that does change the strategy in terms of how you race and approach things but the riders have all done this before," Southam says.
"You still treat the riders the same, because at the end of the day they're still people. The ambitions here are higher so you have to work with that but that's interesting.
"For me it feels like I did a two year apprenticeship at Drapac at Pro-Conti level. I'm really grateful for doing that. We still put pressure on ourselves on that team but it allowed me freedom to develop myself. If I'd come here straight away it would have been okay but it would have been a lot harder. I think I would have had less self-assurance in what I was doing. It's all come together and I feel like I'm in a much better place for doing that.
As for Cannondale Drapac's tactics at the Tour Down Under, Southam gives little away. The stages to Old Willunga Hill and Paracombe will undoubtedly shape the race, but so will the precious time bonuses that litter each day's action. Slagter, Bevin and Woods all have potential to challenge on GC, while in Tom Van Asbroeck the team have a dependable sprinter who can be used tactically in the contests for bonus seconds.
"I'd like to keep my cards close to my chest," he says when asked about leadership.
"We're not in the situation where we have an out-and-out leader, although I have some strong ideas on what we can do. We'll have to see how the race also pans outs. So we looked at Paracombe yesterday and that could be super hard and climber friendly, and that will mean that teams who have all-rounders and climbers, will have to decide who they back. That could then affect what we do."
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