The recent signing of 20-year-old Calvin Watson to Trek Factory Racing has left many fans outside of Australia asking: just who is Calvin Watson? As a rider who readily admits to not having "a huge talent name", Watson presents the story of yet another successful Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) alumnus for whom the future is bright.
Watson is also a bona fide graduate of the Dave Sanders school of motor pacing. Sanders, Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) head cycling coach and Australian junior national team coach, has played a hand in the development of many Victorians with Cadel Evans, Simon Gerrans, Leigh Howard and Simon Clarke, amongst many others, making the list.
From VIS camps at Bright in the Victorian Alps to weekly ergo sessions, Sanders has followed the progression of Watson since his early teens. Sanders even re-scheduled his sacred Tuesday and Thursday 9am motor pacing sessions to after school hours to allow Watson to study and train as he chased a berth at the World Junior Championships in 2011.
"If there's one person, and I don't like to pinpoint names, it is Davo [Dave Sanders]," Watson told Cyclingnews. "He's been the one person behind me the whole way, from basically the first race I won as a junior he's been there and supported me and mentored me. I guess without him I wouldn't be the bike rider that I am today."
Having secured a ride with the Australian Junior National Team in 2011, Watson translated the opportunity into a full scholarship with the AIS in 2012. The momentum drew to a halt, however, when Watson's AIS scholarship was not renewed for the following year. He soon rebounded to take victory at the Herald Sun Tour in January, a victory that prompted strong words from Sanders.
"In every athlete's life, particularly in cycling, everyone has setbacks, everyone gets let down. Everyone. The Gerrans, all of them... And you've got to come out fighting. You go and get off your backside and do it. That's what he's done. I said to him, 'don't get down in the dumps about this, just get off your backside and do it,'" Sanders said.
Back in the winner's circle, Watson was buoyed to be spending the 2013 season with Team Hoppla, an Italian amateur team based out of Empoli, alongside good friend Patrick Lane. The reality of their situation, however, led both of the riders to seek refuge anywhere they could find it.
"The location on the map was fantastic but the other things that went with it weren't so fantastic," said Watson. "It's always hard to integrate into another culture but when there's also other issues going on in a team house situation it's not the sort of place you want to be. After a few months it was basically time to get ourselves out of there."
The AIS lifeline
Lane secured a ride with Synergy Baku after speaking to Jeremy Hunt, and Watson was given a lifeline by the same institution that let him go six months earlier.
"I just packed up everything and moved back to Varese," explained Watson. "I want to give credit to the AIS program as they definitely helped me. There's no doubt it was a tough situation at the start of the year and to be able to come back into the Australian program and work with James Victor and all the staff at the AIS was a bit of a coming home."
Back in the AIS program Watson was put to work helping contribute to the many victories of Caleb Ewan. But as Watson revealed, every rider based out of Varese got their own chances and for Watson, the ones he took clearly paid off.
"To be in the AIS program with the likes of Caleb Ewan, Damien Howson, Adam Phelan and so on. There's a lot of big talent names as a part of that squad and this year it was almost a bit of a ‘dream team'. There were so many race wins and everyone at the team got a shot at having a crack at winning races and doing their thing."
And for Watson, avoiding the hype of being 'the next big thing', is something that worked in his favour.
"I've always sort of flown under the radar a little bit, I haven't had a huge talent name like Caleb Ewan, but that's been nice as well because you don't have to deal with all the pressure that comes with that. Sometimes different people work better in different circumstances."
But flying under the radar is not necessarily the best way to get the attention of a WorldTour team. Watson, however, remained relaxed having been in contact with the Trek team since the Tour Down Under. Alex Carera -agent to riders such as Cunego, Hushovd and Petacchi- had sealed the deal for Watson by August, with the hardest work for Watson from then on being the task of keeping his news close to his chest.
"My win at the Herald Sun Tour was the big one, I guess that's when talks sort of came up," explained Watson. "Then I went to the Tour Down Under and had a few solid rides there and after that my manager, Alex Carera, went and did his part of the job and started looking round and talking to different teams and the Trek team was the one that was the most interested. I signed in August, so it has been a little bit tough to keep it in house as such."
Busy preparing for 2014, Watson's first meeting with the team will come towards the end of November with a three day team-building camp in Belgium, followed shortly after by a two week training camp in Spain.
Although his race program for next season is not yet mapped out, there are two obvious races he'd love to have another crack at with both the Herald Sun Tour and the Tour Down Under firmly in his sights.
"I'd love to go back to the Tour Down Under, it's a special race for Australians and every Aussie wants to line up there. And if it works out I'd love to also go back to the Herald Sun Tour and race with the number one on my back…
"That would be pretty special."