Place a lightweight fighter two weight divisions higher against a welterweight boxer, and they'll struggle to compete. IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness were the proverbial fighter in the ring at the Tour de Langkawi coming out swinging with a stage 1 victory and finishing the eight-stage race atop of the team classification.
The Australian Continental team ended their first participation at the 2.HC race with Cam Bayly second on the general classification, a stage win and day in yellow with Scott Sunderland, numerous top 10s, and victory in the team classification, proving neither size nor budget is a hindrance to success.
Considering the team was on the brink of folding late last year, the phoenix-like resurrection made the results and performance all that much sweeter, as team manager Andrew Christie-Johnston explained to Cyclingnews.
"It is only passion that keeps us going. I went through a pretty dark time myself, to be honest. It is hard to lose a sponsor and lose them late," Christie-Johnston said of former sponsors Avanti. "That is bike racing. We understand, and we rallied together. I am glad we made the right decision. This year I have a talented bunch of great guys with a new sponsor on board, and we are proud that they have. I hope that we will do the right things by our sponsors."
Two of the team's new recruits in SSunderland, stage 1 winner and first yellow jersey wearer, and Bayly were star performers across the week, but with three riders in the top 10 on GC and Anthony Giacoppo twice a runner-up, it was a collective effort in Malaysia.
"You need everyone on the team to step up to the plate if you want to take on this. We are not one to sit in the bunch and roll along. We took on Dimension Data on many stages, and at the end of the day, they were simply too good. We didn't stop trying, and we had a crack today," he said of the team's attempt to move Bayly into the yellow jersey.
A disastrous final day at the Tour of Taihu Lake last year saw Bayly drop from first to 18th. But there were no last-stage nerves for Bayly, who echoed the fighting spirit of his team boss.
"At least we gave it a shot and gave it a try. I am never going to beat him in a sprint, so we had to try something else. We weren't successful but we are pretty happy with second," Bayly told Cyclingnews after finishing second to Dimension Data's Ryan Gibbons.
"It was also in the back of my mind that I do it properly, and I suppose it also motivated me a bit more as well to make sure that I can do it and I don't crack under pressure. That was just an unfortunate circumstance," he said of Taihu Lake. "In the end, I am pretty happy and confident for future success."
While the race was largely a successful first endeavour, Sunderland was on the back foot after a heavy stage 4 crash from which he was still recovering come stage 8. However, the former track sprinter impressed the team boss with his mental fortitude in forgoing the easy decision to end the race early.
"We did a poor job on stage 3 leading him out," said Christie-Johnston. "He had to sprint from nearly 20th and still managed second. That unlucky crash on stage 4 and we've had a physio work on him every night but one of his legs, he doesn't have a lot of feeling there and can't get the power down. Credit to Scotty, I said keep going as you never know when you'll pull right. Don't pull out, I want to get the miles in your legs, and it shows his attitude."
Having punched well above their division in Malaysia, Christie-Johnston is optimistic about the team's ability to secure other race invites at the HC level for his "hard-working" and "deserving" riders.
"It is a battle for us," Christie-Johnston said before joining his riders on the podium to collect the team classification prize. "We don't have a big budget, so we can't pay to get any starts, so we have to do it on merit. I hope people are watching at this HC and that we get some good opportunities."