Elevation to Garmin-Sharp continues ascendency
Steele Von Hoff is hoping that the upcoming Tour Down Under presents an opportunity for him to show just how far he has come in a year.
It was announced Von Hoff will move up from the Chipotle Development squad to Garmin-Sharp in 2013, earlier this week with the Australian signing on for two years. It was just the latest step in the sprinter's ascendency from the Australian National Road Series, full-time cycling to the WorldTour.
While his former Genesys Wealth Advisers' teammate, Nathan Haas was immediately elevated to Garmin-Sharp off the back of an equally impressive 2011 domestic season, Von Hoff's team manager and coach Andrew Christie-Johnson decided with Garmin's then-Director of Competition, Allan Peiper that it was best to hold the rider back for a year. Von Hoff needed experience in Europe and if his form as a stagarie for the top-line team at the back end of this season is any indication, it's a ploy which will pay dividends in 2013.
But first, it's important to review Von Hoff's efforts at this year's WorldTour opener, the Tour Down Under in January. The 24-year-old was riding for the UniSA-Australia composite team and says that while he felt he was up-to-scratch physically, positioning was a problem.
"All of a sudden I'd find myself in 20th wheel with a kilometre to go and you can't do anything about it," Von Hoff told Cyclingnews. And against a firing Lotto Belisol train, Sky and Rabobank it was a problem.
"Andrew [Christie-Johnson] was still coaching me back then and giving me tips and emails every night," Von Hoff continued. "He was telling me the riders to mark and it was pretty much either Lotto or Sky and I had to try and sit on, but I couldn't do that to save myself back then. In the later races I'm finding it a lot easier to navigate through. Wearing the Garmin-Sharp jersey might help that because there's a lot more respect; I won't just be one of those punters from the national team anymore. But that does mean that we can't get in breaks anymore unfortunately."
A second place in Gent - Ieper in March was an indication that Von Hoff was on the right track and a month later, he claimed his first win on Stage 5 of the Tour du Loir-Et-Cher 'Edmond Provost'. In May, Von Hoff took out a stage of the Olympia's Tour in Holland. Two stage wins at the Tour de la Guadeloupe followed in August and next Von Hoff began his stagarie role.
If there was a highlight, Von Hoff admits that his second place behind Mark Cavendish (Sky) at the Tour of Britain was "pretty special" but the Tour of Denmark, where he finished third behind Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) on Stage 2, also provided the sprinter with a memorable experience.
"All the hitters were there and I was drag-racing down the straight with Boonen," Von Hoff explained. "There's a video of it of us bar-bashing each other. That was pretty cool because I got him on the line."
Mention the name 'Greipel' and Von Hoff's anticipation of a possible clash in Adelaide next January is palpable. After all, it was the German's team which set the terms of engagement earlier this year.
Von Hoff's stint with Garmin-Sharp also saw him ride the World Ports Classic and he was encouraged by his own ability to endure the ultra-fast pace of the dual-stage WorldTour event. He finished sixth on the first stage and sixth overall.
"It was just really hard," he admitted. "51km/h average was just crazy. It was good because in the end, my legs didn't fall off and a lot of people's did. It was a good confidence booster."
It's been an inconsistent, even difficult 18 months for Garmin-Sharp's sprinting stocks with Tyler Farrar in a form slump, and the departure of Thor Hushovd and experienced lead-out man Julian Dean. Von Hoff, who will again link up with former Genesys teammate Haas in 2013, is hoping that the Garmin lead-out can be better defined but admits that not all sprinters are created equal.
"It depends on the sprinter and what he wants," he said. "Tyler's an individual sprinter, like Robbie McEwen. He doesn't rely on his teammates that much. In Britain we were there to help but he had the right wheel and our job was kind of redundant because he was on Cav's wheel and that was where he wanted to be. With us young guys that are coming through the squad now, me and Haasy back together and we worked so well - hopefully we a bring a bit of Andrew's mentality back to the team and try and help each other out."
Von Hoff is aware that Greipel has already begun training ahead of the 2013 season, but says that he is not far off himself. His training starts on Monday.