UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling's Rory Sutherland is particularly keen to get going at this year's Amgen Tour of California. His schedule this afternoon in chock-a-block full of media interviews and the Australian just wants to get back on the bike and start racing. It could be said, that time is ticking.
Sutherland heads into the 2011 event with his best-ever result in 2010, seventh overall, following two 34th placings in 2009 and 2008 and a 13th for his 2007 debut. This year, it's a different ball game.
"A top 10's not really enough for me anymore," he admitted to Cyclingnews. "Once you've done it one year, it's like of course you always want to be in the top 10 again, but you always want to keep moving forward, be it the top five or in the range of the podium."
Upgraded to Professional Continental status for the 2011 season, UnitedHealthcare have had the benefit of racing in Europe while not losing focus on the team's primary goal of a strong showing in California.
Sutherland's excursion back to Europe netted him third place on the 4th stage time trial at the Settimana di Coppi e Bartali in March, followed by another third in the time trial at the Vuelta a Asturias and a second in the 4th stage. The 29-year-old describes the shift as a "turbo-charge" that you can't find when your racing is restricted to America.
"It's always a more difficult change," he said. "There's more travel involved, there's more jetlag coming to and from Europe but it's all for the greater good of getting the harder racing in and prepare us as a team for races like this.
"As much as I love racing in the US, there's only so much and so hard and so long that you can race for. Whereas when you do Grand Tours for example, or a lot harder stage races, that can bring you up that extra few percentage you need for condition."
Soon after the dust had settled on last year's Tour of California, Sutherland sat down with team director Mike Tamayo to work out ways to improve and perhaps not have so much pressure on the Australian's shoulders. The result Sutherland says is a UnitedHealthcare outfit, "not just with quality riders but we've built up with quality riders who are great guys as well, so we can go into these things with a common goal."
The team for California is impressive with Sutherland, Robert Förster, Christian Meier, Karl Menzies, Brad White, Andrew Pinfold, Charly Wegelius, and Chris Jones set to put the blue train's stamp on the eight stage race.
"Overall, the miles the guys put in while racing in Europe are paying off and we are pleased with the way they have come together as a unit," said Tamayo. "This team is ready, and we can't wait for the Amgen Tour of California to get underway."
Perhaps most impressive for Sutherland, is the way that his time trial is improving. The discipline was his achilies heal when it came to the Tour of California in 2010, losing 57 seconds to eventual winner, Michael Rogers. Given his final general classification time was 1:58 off Roger's pace, that time trial may just have cost Sutherland a podium position. With the confidence that comes with form and results, Sutherland feels that this year, he can post a result more in his favour.
"Last year I cracked into the top 10 with a bad position and not as much experience in that area or the confidence to do it, which plays a lot to my advantage from a confidence side of things," he explained. "You go in there and do what you can but if I can keep moving forward like I have in previous years, I can close the gap down a little bit to the big guys."