It’s been less than six months since 26-year-old Will Walker announced his return to racing with the Drapac Professional Cycling team and he’s already captured his first victory at the Tour of Gippsland. Walker won stage eight into Metung on the way to the overall victory in the nine-stage Tour held over five days. Having spent the past two months in Italy, Walker was surprised but happy to be riding so well.
"I didn’t expect to be so good so early on. I only got back from Italy three days before the race. I probably just expected to do this race [Tour of Gippsland] as preparation for the upcoming tours, thinking this one was too flat for me," he told Cyclingnews.
"I was probably sprinting and going a little bit better than I expected. It’s pretty nice to be back on the winner’s podium straight away really - first race back with a target."
Unlike many of his Drapac teammates, who recently returned from a stint of racing in Belgium, Walker chose to spend the last couple of months with his fiancé in Italy. He trained in the mountains but admitted the opening criterium around San Remo was pretty tough.
"[I was] training in the hills and performed pretty consistent training. I actually hadn’t raced for quite a long time so the opening criterium in San Remo was a little bit...interesting."
Surprisingly, Walker hasn’t raced many of the Australian tours and this was his first time at the Tour of Gippsland. He spoke of the previous national series, the Tattersall’s Cup and was impressed by how far the National Road Series had grown and developed since he was racing in Australia.
"I did the Tats Cups series which was in 2004 and that was a different format to this. It was five individual one-day races, which I won overall but it was quite different, there was less depth and no teams.
"I think people discount it [the NRS] looking at results and they probably shouldn’t because it’s really solid racing. A lot of the young Australian’s look at trying to get into French teams but I think it’s probably harder to win here than there [overseas]," he told Cyclingnews.
Following his win at Gippsland, Walker will head to the Tour of the Great South Coast where he believes his Drapac team will be the strongest team in the race.
"We’ll go into [Great South Coast] it as probably one of the favourite teams and I think people have started to realise that even though Genesys [Wealth Advisers] and Budget [Forklifts] have dominated in the past, that our team probably has a little bit more experience and strength.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if one of my teammates won Tour of the South Coast, like [Darren] Lapthorne who is climbing far above everybody else here. I think we can just let him go and take the win. That would be fantastic too," he said.
Walker says his team has been focused on achieving a number of goals throughout the year and the Australian NRS is a big part of this objective.
"The NRS has started to grow in size, you know, it’s pretty good exposure for the team and for Michael Drapac so I think we will focus all of our energies and put the best team forward we can all the way up until Tour of Tasmania and continuing all the way up to the Nationals in Buninyong."
While the young Australian is happy living in Melbourne, studying at University and training with his brother Johnnie, his ambitions to make it back to the top level of the sport still remain. He is however, willing to be patient, using this year and the next to gain results and exposure which will hopefully lead to his return to the WorldTour.
"Next year I’m happy to do the Asian races with Drapac, they are quite a good level and it’s really nice to experience and see the whole world too. I’ll probably try and win a few tours over in Asia - if I can.
"I’m happy doing my studies and taking cycling step by step for now. We’ll see how it goes. It’s everybody’s dream to be a pro cyclist. It would be awesome to get back. I’ve never ridden the Tour de France and of course that’s everyone’s dream but for now I’m happy racing the Tour of Gippsland. Six months ago I never thought I’d ride or race again. It’s pretty special just to be here," he told Cyclingnews.