After several years plagued by injury and misfortune 2006 Commonwealth Games kilo champion Ben Kersten has enjoyed a season characterised by growth, development and success. He's optimistic about his 2010 prospects and goes into this weekend's Cronulla International Grand Prix with the best chance of taking out the event on home turf.
Kersten has been aiming for a transition from the track to the road for the past three years, but a combination of injury and a lean run of results in the road races he has contested have held him back. His win in the US Pro Criterium Championship - albeit without the reward of the national champion's jersey - have given him the confidence to continue his move to the pavement.
"It's a pretty big deal over there - I guess it's the second most important race behind the national championship road race," Kersten said of the US national criterium championship. "Wearing the [national champion's] jersey in America - particularly the US ones - is pretty huge, especially for the team at presentations and call ups before each race. There's a lot of promotion.
"I knew it was big but when I was there and won it I realised that it's a bit bigger than what I had previously thought,” he said. “I hadn't really followed road racing before and I didn't really know that much about it. It gave me confidence to keep going with what I'm doing."
Fly V Australia now boasts the Australian criterium champion - Bernard Sulzberger - and the man who will wear the jersey of US national criterium champion, John Murphy, as he rides alongside the likes of George Hincapie and Alessandro Ballan at BMC Racing in 2010. Despite the obvious boost to his self-belief, Kersten isn't getting carried away by the success, especially at this weekend's Cronulla International Grand Prix.
"This year I've got a good road season under my belt, so I'm almost on the same level [as the other road professionals] to be able to cope with different situations in a road race," said Kersten. "There are a good 10 or 20 guys in the bunch who are also capable of dealing with those situations. I've got high hopes but if it doesn't happen, that's racing. I wanted to win on the weekend [at the Dick Smith Cycle Sydney GP] but I dropped my chain and almost crashed. That's just one scenario that can eventuate... so fingers crossed.
"I never really did it [road racing] before seriously. I just did the Cronulla GP once a year but now it's my job and I don't do track anymore," Kersten said about his new life on the bike. "It's just a case of riding my bike for longer every day, which flicks the switch, let alone racing that many times a year. Unfortunately I've got the off season working against me at the moment - I'm just coming off that now."
Based in Santa Monica, California, a place he's happy to call his home-away-from-home, Kersten is aiming for more of the racing he's experienced in 2009 with a focus on learning more about life on the road in National Racing Calendar (NRC) events and some of America's biggest races. "I'll be back with Fly V Australia, based in the States, doing criteriums and stage races as well. We've been invited to [Tour of] California, [Tour of] Missouri and Tour of Utah," he explained. "I'll mainly be doing one-day races and just furthering my experience in the stage racing - I haven't done that many so I'm still learning."
Kersten had a taste of what American stage races can serve up when he made the trip to the Tour of Utah. Massive mountain passes don't suit the burly sprinter's build, although he happy to gain an insight into what the general classification riders have to contend with. "We had two injured riders the day before the race started and I'd just won the [US Pro] criterium and they said, 'Look, we know you're not going to go very far, but there's a spare spot here and we'd just love to have you along because all our sponsors are here and they'd love to meet you'," said Kersten.
"I went along and did the prologue; I was on a new bike and I flew straight to altitude and raced that day after 12 hours of flying,” he said. “Unfortunately the race ended soon after that. I spent the week with the team and trained by myself up in the mountains - I got to see how hard the race was and was glad that I got time cut before it got too ridiculous. Even if I was a road rider for the next 10 years and I was at my peak, I still wouldn't put my hand up to do that race. It's made for the Cadel Evans-type rider - it's just up and up then they go up again. They start at 2,000m and go up that again in a day."
Although he doesn't see himself mixing it with wafer-thin climbers any time in the future, he has certainly said goodbye to his days of sprinting on the track. "If there was any more track riding it'd only be endurance. I'm not a [track] sprinter any more - it's done and dusted," he explained. "It took a long time to get myself to that level and now I've undone it all with the road. I was forced to retire from that and now I'm kind of glad I did."