Tour de France debutant Paddy Bevin ready for the unknown

Cannondale-Drapac rider one of four Kiwis to start 2017 La Grande Boucle

For defending Tour de France champion Chris Froome, baring serious injury, he is all but assured of lining out each July for the French Grand Tour. For Paddy Bevin, he only received confirmation he would be making a Tour debut just over a week out from the race and one day before Cannondale-Drapac announced its roster.

"I was a fairly late inclusion. I wasn't really on the long list until after Tour de Suisse so it was a big of a last minute run," a relaxed Bevin told Cyclingnews.

The Tour de France will be the second Grand Tour of Bevin's career after he raced the Vuelta a Espana last year having also received a late call-up.

"I had twice as much time as the Vuelta a last year so that is something," he said of the race he was forced to abandon due to injury. "I think it is just something that is part of being where I am in the team. I am not the first on the list and so it is part and parcel of this league. It has been the story of my year. I have had a few races come and go and adapting to that has been a skill."

Following an interrupted start to the season, a consistent Bevin finished sixth overall at the Tour of Norway, rode the Hammer Series, the headed to the Tour de Suisse. Racing without any pressure of nailing down a Tour position at Suisse, Bevin recorded four top-ten results including a narrow loss to Philippe Gilbert on stage two.

"If you are racing in June, any strong performances will help your cause for a Tour spot. I don't think any team will turn away riders who are showing they are on form. It was obviously in the back of my mind, but in some ways it was nice, as selection hadn't hung over my head. Going into Suisse, it wasn't even on my radar. My radar was Suisse and restock from there."

Tenth place in the final day time trial, his first over 25km in length since winning the 2016 New Zealand nationals, was further confirmation of his form and condition at the race. Despite mixing it up against the likes of Peter Sagan in what is arguably his best WorldTour stage race to date, Bevin isn't expecting to be challenging for stage wins at the Tour just yet.

"The Tour is a whole other realm. It would be naïve to think that Suisse went well so let's take that into France. I think Suisse was nice but it was fairly low-stress race on the scheme of WorldTour races and the Tour is as high stress as it gets," said Bevin, one of 49 Tour debutants in 2017. "For me personally, to come in with the form I have is all I can do. I don't have any previous experience at the Tour so I am walking in blind. I am trying to keep my head down and pick off what I can as the race unfolds."

While some riders may be daunted by a late call up the Tour, Bevin explained that in 2017 he has become accepted to playing a role whenever the team requires and has benefitted from the experience thus far.

"For me, the biggest learning curve is being able to slot in and out and create or carry form into a race programme that is fairly flexible and really wide-ranging," he said. "Being fit and ready to go and not overtraining and being ready for the wide range of races has been the biggest step up from the Continental level. I think each time you build on that you are getting more experienced."

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Kiwi representation

In 2017, there will be a record number of New Zealanders at the Tour de France. Jack Bauer (Quick-Step Floors) will line out for his fourth, George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) for his second while Bevin and Dion Smith (Wanty-Group Gobert) are the debutants.

"It is cool and it's cool to have Dion there making a debut as well having raced a lot with him coming up out of New Zealand," Bevin said of his compatriot. "I think it is exciting and an exciting time for New Zealand to have so many riders in a race like the Tour and it shows it has been a slow build but there are more and more guys filtering through into Pro-Continental and WorldTour teams which is good for the sport."

With four starters, the elusive Tour stage win for a Kiwi is well within grasp added Bevin.

"It is as a good a year as any. Statistically it is a tough one but eventually, it will happen," he said. "The more the riders you have starting the Tour in roles that they can potentially win a stage, eventually it will happen."

With the All Blacks consistently proving themselves as the top team in world rugby, and New Zealand taking a famous victory over the USA in the America's Cup, Bevin added there would be plenty of interest in how he and countrymen fare at the Tour this July and whether they too can take on the world's best and come out on top.

"It has been a funny week. I never realised that being announced as a starter for a race was such a big deal. As far as my whole career goes, I don't think I have had any kind of reception other than being announced for the Tour de France," he said of the newfound attention. "The country goes crazy for it and I think, with the Americas Cup, the Lions Tour and the Tour, we have a lot of sport going on and New Zealand is really keen to get in behind it." 

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