Pure climbing stock and bolstered roster critical for Pro Conti jump, says rider
Failing to start the final stage at Battle on the Border wasn't a surprise for Drapac Cycling's Will Walker who started his 2013 NRS campaign under less than ideal circumstances. Last month Walker finished second overall at the Tour of Thailand, demonstrating he was on track for the second round of the Subaru National Road Series and decided to test himself on the eve of Stage 1. He performed a late-afternoon reconnaissance spin up Mount Warning that he said would have been fast enough to beat anyone come race day.
Upon waking up the next day however, he knew that something wasn't right. As it was Walker had come down with a virus that would rule him out of contesting for the win before turning a single pedal. Considering his past health complications, Walker says its an unfortunate experience that has to be taken on the chin.
"Sometimes that's just life," he told Cyclingnews about coming to terms with the reality that it's simply impossible to arrive at every race in winning form.
"I was coming into really good form before it and you could say even the night before I went up just as fast to beat anyone on the day but I woke up the next morning and the virus had absolutely killed me. I stayed last wheel for the whole stage and was no help to the team at all. I was disappointed that it happened but considering the setbacks I've had in the past, I'm kind of used to having to re-assess and understand that you can't be good in every race."
Walker opted to sit-out the final stage to Salt Village and instead return home to Melbourne where he could undergo further diagnosis. Feeling marginally better a couple of days later Walker may be back to full health for the start of the FKG Tour of Toowoomba on 9 May but added the team had discussed ways to beat the seemingly unshakable Huon Salmon-Genesys Wealth Advisers team. With an international calendar of races still to come this year there's an additional focus circled around achieving results at races that are equally or arguably more important than the domestic scene.
"We've already started to discuss ways that we can start to challenge them (Huon Salmon-Genesys) on the hills. Personally I really wanted to challenge them in Battle on the Border and this next race at Toowoomba but I think I trained just a little bit too much and put myself over the edge. We'll try again in Toowoomba but there's still big races like Tour of Japan and Qinghai Lake that are equally or slightly more important for the team. They are less specific races and I think we will be able to do well there.
"I think we have to tackle it differently from Battle on the Border - that's quite obvious. I think Lapthorne looks like he's improving but again we don't have a true, true climber to go against a Nathan Earle. I think we will have to play all the different cards and hope for a different outcome."
One thing to remember according to Walker is that the Tasmanian outfit has only won two the first two races in the 2013 NRS. The Drapac squad should come to the fore in tours like Tour of Gippsland, won by Walker in 2012 but for now he admits that overcoming the strength of Huon-Genesys will be difficult.
"We can get ahead of ourselves saying they can control any race they want to, they have won two races in-a-row but they are quite a specific team. With time trials, team time trials or uphill finishes they are very hard to beat but when a race is more open and there's breakaways I think that's where Drapac's advantage is. Toowoomba is more suited to Huon Salmon-Genesys so it's going to be harder for us again in this tour but the rest I think favour back toward Drapac. But in this tour it is going to be tough."
Huon-Genesys continues to stand firmly as the number-one ranked team in Australia but there is a huge crop of teams and talented riders that are beginning to show themselves, making the racing harder and more open, according to Walker who rode as a professional with Rabobank from 2006-2008 and spent the opening part of the 2009 season with Fuji-Servetto.
"The NRS has made another step in the overall level of the riders and I think we can thank Drapac, Budget (Forklifts) and Genesys for being strong but now there's a number of other teams which have really improved; search2retain(-health) have become a really good team and Plan B (Satalyst-Giant) are looking better as well. There's definitely a lot more competition. Australian cycling is heading in a really good direction."
Pro Continental more than just a license
With the recent reports and final confirmation that Drapac will apply for a Professional Continental license in 2014 Walker isn't wanting to put too much emphasis on his own plans for next season. Regardless of his own movements Walker understands that it will undoubtedly boost the level of Australian cycling - but not without the need to match increased expectations with results for the team racing in the upper echelons of the sport.
"No one has really spoken about who will be in the team for the future so it's impossible to say but I think it's good for Australian cycling," Walker told Cyclingnews. Going Pro Continental means added pressure and the team is certainly going to have to bolster the line-up and fill a few gaps the team has at the moment.
"One of ours would be to find a climber that can do the watts per kilo of a WorldTour rider. That is part and parcel of becoming a Professional Continental team, if you just change the license and that's the only difference well it's not really different at all. There's things the team will need to do like better training and better preparation and I'm sure that's all going to happen."
Still making his 'come back' to the sport after a four-year hiatus has been a huge step for the 27-year-old but to make a return to the professional ranks remains ultimate objective.
"I try to not look too far into future with cycling but of course being technically a pro again would be pretty amazing. I definitely wouldn't say no."