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A look at the school, the races and the future of this unique 'sport'
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Classic Colnago steel frame with gorgeous pantographed Campagnolo components
David Tanner arrives from Saxo-Tinkoff to boost Blanco's lead-out possibilities.
Australian to make debut at Tour Down Under
David Tanner has endured his share of setbacks during his professional career and when Rabobank announced its intention to withdraw from cycling in mid October, he feared that his new departure would instead prove to be a dead-end. The Australian had agreed to join the squad after two years at Saxo Bank, but for a frantic 48 hours, it seemed as though his diligently-woven career was about to unravel just when everything had finally begun to knit together.
It soon emerged, however, that Rabobank would continue to fund the team for another year, and Tanner's concerns were allayed still further when he saw the speed with which the organisation rebranded itself as Blanco Pro Cycling and began planning for the new year. Even so, it had been a trying time.
"To be honest, for two days I was shitting myself," Tanner told Cyclingnews. "I'd come onto a team that had been one of the best in the world ever since I'd been watching the Tour de France, and then one day you get an email saying that a sponsor who has been in the sport for 17 years has stopped, so that was not a nice feeling. But once the story and the situation we're in became clear to us, I relaxed a little bit more. For me, the main thing is that the team races as normal for 2013."
Indeed, Tanner had narrowly avoided an even more traumatic case of withdrawn sponsorship in late 2010, when Fly V Australia morphed into the ill-fated Pegasus outfit. Fortunately, he had already left for Saxo Bank when the squad abruptly folded at the turn of the year, and the experiences of his former teammates put his recent scare in perspective.
"It was lucky that I had the results to move on to Saxo Bank and I wasn't like my mates who had to stay at Pegasus because that was disastrous for some of those guys," he said. "When I first read the email about Rabobank, I could imagine how those guys were feeling back then and it's not good."
As Tanner cheerily puts it, however, he believes that "everything happens for a reason," and while such optimism may seem at odds with the often absurdist machinations of his sport, a cursory glance at Tanner's career trajectory offers some explanation for his sanguine outlook.
A crash at the Tour du Gévaudan in 2008 saw Tanner break his leg, back and collarbone just as he was on the cusp of turning professional, and though he did ultimately reach the pro ranks the following year, it was amid the chaos of the fragmenting Rock Racing. "The only possibility was to go to Rock. That was a really hard year because first, we didn't really get paid and I raced maybe five times in the year," he said, matter-of-factly.
A consistent season at Fly V the following year saw Tanner make his belated step up to WorldTour level with Saxo Bank in 2011, but even that period was not without its anxieties, as the squad laboured fretfully in the shadow of Alberto Contador's impending doping ban, finally applied in February of last year.
"Looking back, there was uncertainty all the time," Tanner said. "Would the team lose its licence because Alberto is suspended? Would he be suspended? Wouldn't he be suspended? For example at the start of 2012, the programme couldn't really be decided because no one knew if Alberto was going to be racing or not. The team was in limbo. Looking back, it would have been so much nicer if there hadn't been that uncertainty, but at the time, it didn't seem like a big disaster."
In spite of the lack of clarity, Tanner built up a treasury of experience in his two seasons at Saxo Bank, signing off on his time with a first-ever selection for the Australian Worlds team. "It's just a shame that I couldn't find that level a bit earlier at the team but it's easy to say that in hindsight," he said. "I'm just sorry I couldn't have achieved a bit more but I still had two great years at the team and I'm thankful to Bjarne [Riis]."
Tanner's timely run of late-season form in 2012 dovetailed neatly with the beginning of his informal negotiations with Rabobank and he impressed sufficiently to secure a contract with the squad for the coming season. "I think it was a bit of a snowball effect really," Tanner explained. "If they see someone in the races doing well, it's just another rider, but if that that name is already in their heads, they say ‘ah yeah, that guy was up there last week too' and one thing leads to another."
At Blanco Pro Cycling, Tanner's principal role is set to be as part of a sprinting unit that also includes fellow Australians Graeme Brown and Mark Renshaw, as well as Theo Bos. "I'm not really a sprinter but one of my strong points is producing one minute of power," he said. "I imagine I would be third or fourth last rider, going from 1500 metres out to take the second-last guy to 500 or 400 to go."
In more general terms, however, Tanner believes that every day of racing at his new team will have significance, be it working for a leader or, on occasion, exploring opportunities of his own. "In each race I do, there will be something to do – it won't be a case of just sitting in the bunch, riding to finish. If it's a sprint, I'll have a job to do. If it's an up-and-down day, maybe I can try and get in a break or do my work in the team. Every day there will be a purpose."
Indeed, that was a philosophy Tanner carried with him through the off-season. For the second successive year, after a short break at home in Melbourne, Tanner spent the winter in his European base of Monaco, returning to the Antipodes just ahead of the Tour Down Under. "There's always a barbecue or a Christmas party to go to in Australia. In Monaco, there are fewer distractions and it's calmer. I can just get down to work."