Saxo-Tinkoff recruit re-learning the ways of the WorldTour
Three words: Amstel Gold Race. Rory Sutherland reacts in a way that leaves little doubt regarding his enthusiasm for the first event of the Ardennes Classics.
"Yeah!" the Saxo-Tinkoff recruit exclaims down the phone to Cyclingnews. "Finally! Finally!"
Riding Amstel Gold Race on Sunday has been 13 years in the making for the 31-year-old who after six seasons of toil primarily in America under the UnitedHealthcare banner, is back full-time in Europe. Four seasons with Rabobank in their Continental and ProTeam squads was never going to net the Australian a start in Holland's biggest race, with preference going to local riders so this one has been a long time coming. While with the Dutch team, Sutherland lived just across the Belgian border from the Amstel start in Maastricht so the roads will be very familiar.
"If you do any hard stuff [in training] you probably go across to Limburg and the Cauberg, that area," Sutherland explained. "It's just gorgeous. It really appealed to me.
"I'm sure riders like something like Roubaix or Flanders because it suits them really well, Amstel and the area with those power climbs generally suit me pretty well so it gives you more motivation."
Sutherland will part of a starting line up that includes Roman Kreuziger and Nicolas Roche so it's more than likely that he will earn a wildcard role in the Saxo-Tinkoff team this weekend before focusing on a dedicated support role at La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday with Alberto Contador back in action. While he's itching to be racing this weekend, Amstel Gold Race is still part of the learning curve given he's yet to prove himself at this level.
"Being 250km of racing is a little bit different to doing 200km of racing," Sutherland explained. "Sometimes it takes a little bit more, not experience but a little bit more depth in the racing you've done with the grand tours and everything.
"A race like Sunday... it's a trial and error kind of thing and we'll see what works out."
Finding a new groove
Sutherland began his season at the Tour Méditerranéen before taking on the eight-stage Paris-Nice, where he made some considerable inroads into his transition to the UCI WorldTour.
"All we've seen in training and in the races following is that it's done a lot more for me than what it's done for riders that have done it many years in a row," he told Cyclingnews. "It was definitely a shock to the system to re-learn things; what I was doing and what I was doing wrong. Back to fighting with 200 guys instead of 20 guys for position that makes it a little bit different again."
The Australian has been happy with the smoothness of the move so far with not only a different style of racing to contend with but also a new team and the changes that come with it - riders, languages and equipment.
Having also raced the Critérium International and Circuit de la Sarthe - Pays de la Loire where he finished 10th overall and then last week Klasika Primavera de Amorebieta where he placed 6th, Sutherland believes that indications are that everything is "coming together now and the form seems to be getting better and better."
It's going to be a very busy next two months for Sutherland who after the Ardennes, will race Tour of Turkey and then, after an eight-year absence, the Giro d'Italia, which he last rode in his neo-pro season.
It will make quite the change considering that normally his focus has been on that other May race, the Tour of California.
"I love the race, I love racing in the US but for me and my development as a rider doing another grand tour again is really important for the second half of the year to see what it does and to see if we can make another step in the right direction," Sutherland said frankly.
"I said to some of the riders on the team that I'm an experienced 31-year-old neo pro. I've won more races than some of the guys on the team. I did the Giro in 2005 with one of our directors [Steven De Jongh – ed.] who actually raced as well and I don't think I'm even that old. So that obviously makes it a little different."
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