Starting on January 2, David Tanner's season has been a long one given the Saxo Bank-SunGard rider still has next week's Japan Cup to go, although it's one that the talented 27-year-old Australian is glad to have got under his belt.
"It has really dragged out," Tanner told Cyclingnews. "I started at the Bay Series because I felt I needed to get some kind of racing in before Tour Down Under because I didn't feel fit enough and then from Down Under it was fairly heavy until I broke my elbow.
"To finish so late is good in a way because I've had 10 days of racing in October with Beijing and then Sun Tour which for me was serious racing. Heading into Tokyo I haven't ridden my bike and then if the legs are there, they're there and if they're not then you can't really do much about it."
Tanner's first year with Saxo Bank-SunGard, his debut with a ProTour team which has been a long time in the making, has had as many ups and downs as his favoured races in the Ardennes, but the all-rounder is philosophical saying, "everything happens for a reason."
A broken elbow 25 kilometres from the finish line on the first stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, and then a broken rib for Milan-San Remo meant he couldn't ride to full capacity – although Tanner believes that without such misfortunes, he wouldn't have found his recent late-season form. If there's been two key moments for Tanner in 2011, it was at the Ster ZLM Toer in June and then at the GP de Wallonie in September.
On stage four of the Dutch race, Tanner was part of a seven-man breakaway group which clung to the wheels of Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) before the Belgian escaped on the uphill sprint to the finish. Tanner's fifth placing for the stage rocketed him up the general classification and he went on to finish fifth overall for his season-best result.
More recently, Tanner again found himself chasing Gilbert on the uphill finish in Namur at the GP de Wallonie but this time he was the only rider to stick with the powerful Belgian.
"It was hard, it was a full sprint to stay with him but at the same time I knew I was excited to be doing what I was doing," Tanner said. "But then it was also so disappointing because I lost him with not long to go and I completely exploded and a really good ride turned into 20th position [eds. note – he finished 26th]. It was sort of, the last three kilometres was a lot of mixed emotion but it sort of has made me think. It inspired me to keep working hard and you never know what's possible."
On paper, it would appear as though the move to Bjarne Riis' outfit came together quickly after a solid season with Fly V Australia where he netted six wins for 2010, including at the Tour de Beauce and the Tour of Utah, but the reality is anything but. From 2004, Tanner rode for French amateur teams including Châteauroux, VC Roubaix and VC La Pomme Marseille before finally getting a shot as a stagiaire for Barloworld towards the end of 2008. Breaks to his leg, collarbone and, frighteningly, his back at the Tour du Gévaudan left Tanner questioning if he'd ever ride again. While he did after a long recovery, Rock Racing was his only option.
"It's taken me so long. For four, five years I was knocking on the door of signing for big teams and each year there'd be something in the pipeline and for one reason or another it never eventuated," Tanner said. "My whole mentality is that I'm very lucky to be with Saxo Bank so I've got to make the most of the time."
With that in mind, 2012 is shaping as a big one for Tanner who is targeting more strong support rides in the Ardennes Classics and getting his first start in a Grand Tour.
"I think personally to develop I need a Grand Tour in my legs and the Giro would be a great place to start."