Having been absent for the Tour of Gippsland, Drapac Professional Cycling is keen to return to Australian racing with a win after a stint in Asia. Round seven of the Subaru National Road Series (NRS),the 2013 Campolina-Fulton Hogan Tour of the Great South Coast, presents the squad with a great chance to get their opening run on the domestic board.
Will Walker was frank about Drapac's lack of local success so far this year, but he was optimistic that they could turn things around this week.
"We've had a pretty ordinary NRS campaign so far. It's been dominated by Huon-Genesys," Walker admitted to Cyclingnews. "We've got probably the strongest team for this race and I think we'd be happy to come away with the win and really try and have some dominance in this race I'd say."
With the Huon-Genesys team split between South Coast and the Tour of Borneo, Walker confided that Drapac weren't complaining about the absence of current NRS leader and recently-announced Team Sky trainee, Nathan Earle.
"Well Nathan Earle's not there so I think we're all secretly happy!"
Worrying about opposing teams, however, is not something Walker takes too seriously. When pressed about the rivalry that exists between the Huon-Genesys and Drapac teams, Walker just laughs and sees it simply as something "funny actually."
Drapac is now all but assured of a Tour Down Under start next year as they finalise their application for their Professional Continental licence. As such, current riders have bigger things on their minds.
"I think everybody in the team probably wants to be a part of the team next year," said Walker. "It's just going to be pretty exciting and I think there will be a re-structuring in the roster. So I guess it's a good time now for everybody to show what their value is in these races coming up"
With four of his teammates having returned from the ever arduous Tour of Qinghai Lake one month ago, Walker believes their form for this race will be hard to predict.
"We've got Robbie Hucker, [Darren] Lapthorne, Floris [Goesinnen] and Bernie [Sulzberger] that did Qinghai Lake. So I'm not sure, it's always hard to know how you'll come out of that race," explained Walker. "I think it could be a challenge for some but it could be beneficial for others. And then you've got a few of us that haven't raced in probably over two months so we've got a team that's good enough to win anyway but I guess it'll just be interesting to see where everybody is."
There's no doubt that Drapac will be looking to see the top step of the podium via some sprint wins this week at South Coast. And with the dual-pronged approach of 2012 NRS winner Luke Davison, and former junior kilo track World Champion Tom Palmer, their chances of doing so are high. As to who will take the role as lead sprinter, Walker thinks form on the day will decide.
"I think they could just share the role. In the next couple of months there's going to be say, ten different sprint stages finishing with sprints so they don't need to just decide on one of them," said Walker. "They can perhaps take turns in leadership. I'm sure form will decide that."
And there's little doubt that Walker has complete confidence in his teammates, whoever takes the leadership role.
"If you look at them as sprinters they've both got the characteristics of as good as any sprinter ever in Australia out of the last ten years. They're as fast as anybody has ever been. So when you see the way they win it's pretty incredible"
Having dominated the first half of the year, Huon-Genesys is a team generally suited to more traditional tours decided by a hill top finish or a time trial. Drapac on the other hand bring a team rich in all-rounders that Walker believes is more suited to the windy and rolling coastlines they will face this week.
"I think this terrain suits us more, probably the next few NRS races are a bit more suited to our characteristics," explained Walker.
From Asia to Australia
The Drapac team have had an extensive Asian racing program during the first half of the year and they've secured many results as reward for their labour. Goesinnen took a second place on stage 5 at the Tour of Qinghai Lake. Lapthorne and Hucker both had respectable top-10 stage finishes at the Tour of Japan in May. Sulzberger won the Tour of Taiwan back in March. And Walker himself finished second at the Tour of Thailand in April. No one doubts their abilities. For the team, however, it appears to be more a matter of putting everything together on the day. For Walker, this diversity can be seen as a great bonus, or as a hindrance.
"Anybody in our team could win so that's pretty beneficial," said Walker. "Sometimes I think it's a bit like being a team like RadioShack when you can have anybody that can win and you end up doing worse! Hopefully it'll plan out pretty well in this one. Especially with people coming from China and not having raced, you never know who the guy in the best condition might be."
Whoever takes the leadership mantle for Drapac, the end goal will remain the same. Walker says sternly and succinctly, that for Drapac, "the goal is obviously to win."