Rory Sutherland soloed to the biggest victory of his career at the 2012 USA Pro Challenge (USAPC), with a stage win atop Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder, Colorado, where the 31-year-old Australian has called home since 2007. Sutherland has had solid results at each of his two previous USAPC starts, with a 10th place overall finish in the inaugural 2011 edition followed by his memorable stage victory last year, each achieved while competing for the US-based Pro Continental UnitedHealthcare squad.
Sutherland returns to this year's third USAPC edition, however, as a key member of the WorldTour Team Saxo-Tinkoff squad, and when he rolls off the start line in Aspen, Colorado for the opening stage on Monday it will be his first, and only, race in the US this season. Speaking to the assembled media in today's pre-event press conference, Sutherland touched on his stage victory last year and was cautiously optimistic about his build-up for this year's USAPC edition.
"I don't think we can ever re-do, or want to re-do, what happened last year," said Sutherland. "Obviously it was a fantastic day and I think the whole peloton and all the fans appreciated it. Everybody saw how big racing and cycling is in Colorado.
"This year is a new team, new opportunities, different teammates, a different kind of preparation coming into it than kind of doing the local US thing."
Sutherland moved to his European base in Girona, Spain in November of 2012 and has resided in Europe and ridden a full European program for the first half of the season as part of Team Saxo-Tinkoff. The Australian has contested four WorldTour events thus far this season - Paris-Nice, Giro d'Italia, Amstel Gold and Fleche Wallonne - and has had solid results at races such as the Spanish one-day Klasika Primavera de Amorebieta race, where he finished sixth behind winner Rui Costa, as well as a 10th place general classification result at the Tour of Turkey.
Sutherland last raced at the Tour of Austria, ending in early July, and returned to Boulder, Colorado in mid-July. He's spent five weeks at home and is eager to kick off the latter part of his 2013 season. Sutherland spoke to Cyclingnews about this different approach to USAPC preparation.
"That's the question mark we're not sure about and that's kind of the beauty of it at the same time," Sutherland told Cyclingnews. "I'm not tired so I can't go the other direction, but I might just be the same which is absolutely fine. I've obviously done well here in different areas in the last few years.
"Everything in training indicates I'm going better, but it's training and training numbers and that's not what you can go off of. Day-by-day we're going to see where I'm at. Confidence and recovery is pretty much what the key's going to be anyway."
Sutherland is joined in Colorado by fellow Australian Michael Rogers, and the team is heading into the race with a wait-and-see approach to tactics and strategy.
"I think we'll have to see how it goes the first few days," said Rogers. "I'm a lot heavier than some of these little guys up here so I've got to choose when to use my bullets.
"We're going to see how Mick [Michael Rogers] is going as well. He's a phenomenally classy bike rider and very intelligent on the bike as well. As long as someone from our team is in a good position than that's the goal for the team. If Mick's riding better that's great, if I'm riding better that's great or someone else."
2012 US pro champion Timmy Duggan also made the move to Saxo-Tinkoff and the Nederland, Colorado resident is looking for a good result this week as well.
"We didn't bring as strong a team as some of the others so we can watch a little bit and choose what to do when we want to do things," said Sutherland.
Sutherland also has an eye on the remainder of his 2013 program following the USAPC and is hoping his stint in Colorado will kick start the remainder of his year. Sutherland is slated to contest both of the WorldTour one-day races in Canada, then returns to Europe where he hopes to be selected for Australia's world championship squad. Il Lombardia closes out his European campaign, with the Tour of Beijing to conclude his first season with Team Saxo-Tinkoff.
"It's a pretty cool program and I'm really excited about it because having a good break and spending time at altitude I usually ride very well at the later part of the year," said Sutherland.