There aren't many riders who can claim they signed their first pro contract in a hospital bed in France. That was the case for Australian talent Tim Roe, however, as the disappointment of a broken collarbone was tempered by an offer to ride for BMC Racing in 2011.
The 21-year-old from Adelaide, South Australia, is one of two Trek-Livestrong riders making their way to Andy Rihs' squad for the next two years. And he's in illustrious company; American star Taylor Phinney is making the same move in what is a strong indication that BMC Racing is focused on the future.
Following a crash in this year's Tour de l'Avenir, Roe's future was given a massive boost, just when it seemed like it may have taken a dive. "At l'Avenir I did well before I crashed and while I was in hospital they (BMC representatives) rang up and offered me the deal," Roe said.
"It made being in a French hospital, where I couldn't speak any French and had to eat French rolls for breakfast, more bearable... It was a nice relief!"
Roe's success story didn't always look like happening, however - as he told Cyclingnews, early setbacks tested his mettle and such is the will of this slightly-built climber that he turned a perceived weakness into his strength.
After racing BMX in his early teens and making a switch to the road due to his smaller build, Roe enjoyed success in his first road race. That didn't last and soon that test of will came into play.
"I started as a second-year under 17 and I did all the racing in South Australia. After about a year or two I went interstate to do a few of the National Road Series races and I got my arse kicked for a while - I was too small and I struggled, finishing last in a lot of races," said Roe.
He rode for Adelaide-based Continental squad Savings & Loans in 2008, gradually building his form and stature, and explains that the latter is what may have held him back in the early years.
"I think I've just grown a bit later than everyone else; it meant that when I was young I just struggled a lot more. I just had to remember that everything would work out if I just kept at it."
And he turned that weakness into a strength, although in domestic racing that ability wasn't always the correct ingredient for success. "Climbing's definitely one of my strong suits and my favourite thing about cycling - it's a bit hard to be a climber when you live and race in Adelaide but when you're racing overseas it's definitely more of an advantage," Roe said.
That proved to be the case and by 2009 he was regularly winning stages and overall classifications of multi-day events in Australia, New Zealand and Asia. A second place in stage two of the Tour of Slovakia was his first taste of European success, which would lead to higher honours in 2010.
Success with Trek-Livestrong
Finishing runner up overall in the Thüringen Rundfahrt, an overall top 10 in the San Dimas Stage Race and 11th in the difficult Tour of Utah (despite admittedly struggling with the altitude) was proof that Roe's later development had just been ramped up a notch in his new squad, Trek-Livestrong.
Roe says one of the main ingredients to his success this year was feeling comfortable in the development squad owned by lance Armstrong. "I loved it there (Trek-Livestrong) this year - it was a good team with a good director in Axel Merckx. I got along with him really well and he's a really nice guy," he said.
"The team had good sponsors, a good team owner and the atmosphere was just great. Everyone just fed off each other - like Taylor being Taylor, which I think helped everyone and just gave them more confidence. In the results that shows; it was definitely a year during which I learnt a lot."
The young Australian is one of a number of riders from that nation making their mark through development programs outside the much-lauded Australian Institute of Sport, which runs a European racing program for Under 23 riders that is based in Varese, Italy.
The Australian program has produced many current professionals although Roe - who spent time racing with the institute's riders in Italy later this year - says he has no reason to regret not following that exact pathway to a career.
"I was happy with the decision I made at the start of the year to go to Trek-Livestrong. I learnt a lot. To be able to have the best of both worlds by going there (Varese) at the end of the year definitely helped.
"I think either path is a good one - I just think it just depends on what you like. Doing it through a team like Trek-Livestrong, it's less controlled. I enjoyed just living with a few guys and living like people, I suppose, instead of in a program."
One of the riders Roe lived with was Alex Dowsett, who signed his first contract with Team Sky a month ago, another success story emanating from the Trek-Livestrong program. Roe's of the belief that being in the high profile development team allowed him the exposure that got big teams talking about him, as he explains.
"It was all 'a bit of talk here, you hear a bit there...' People tell you, 'They're interested', but you never really know. My agent then got onto me just before Tour de l'Avenir and told me that a few teams had shown interest - BMC being one of them. I did a fairly good ride in Utah and they were actually there, which made them more interested," Roe said.
"I hadn't really had any other proper offers - I had plenty of 'little' ones but BMC was the first one who showed proper interest and actually gave me an offer. Maybe if I had waited there might have been something else but I don't think there was any point waiting."
BMC Racing builds for the future
For BMC Racing, Roe represents the way forward and directeur sportif John Lelangue is excited about the potential for the Australian's continued development, given that he will be riding with countryman and 2009 world champion Cadel Evans, with whom Roe shares some personality traits. Both are quietly determined and don't seek the limelight.
"He (Roe) is definitely a big talent; I saw him at the beginning of the season in the Tour Down Under - he has a really good potential with his climbing ability and also in the time trial," said Lelangue at the UCI Road World Championships in Geelong Australia.
"We're looking at some newer riders who are a middle-term investment and therefore we were looking at two or three guys with these type of qualities; good in the mountains, good in the TT, focusing more on one-week stage races to begin with.
"Tim had a really good season with a good team - he's already had some good experience at the international level, he was in America at the climbing races, at the beginning of the season in the Tour Down Under and recently at the Tour de l'Avenir - other than the crash he was always there," said the experienced Belgian.
"He's somebody we will have to keep with us so he can grow, without pressure - we don't expect him to have [big] results next year. I think he will concentrate on a program of one-week stage races; if we are lucky enough to gain a ProTour licence, all those races like Catalunya, Pais Vasco, Tour de Romandie, Dauphiné Libéré where he'll learn and be with some of our leaders, which is good and he may have an opportunity to play his own card.
"I think that for him the first thing is to learn, be with Cadel and also other big names that we have in the team plus to learn the job. He has to learn the job and to see where he is going... I'm pretty confident he has the ability to really make it."
Roe's Trek-Livestrong teammates find success
Roe is one of two Trek-Livestrong riders heading to BMC Racing for 2011, the other being American sensation Taylor Phinney.
While the Australian is a reserved character, preferring to accommodate the quieter spaces of the professional cycling world, Phinney has been in the limelight since he burst onto the scene as a junior two years ago.
The two riders complement each other however, and Roe says that was the case at Trek-Livestrong this year.
"Taylor... That's just how he is. I've been around him the whole year and I'm really good mates with him. He's just an awesome guy. I'm looking forward to spending the next couple of years around him.
Another rider finding success from within the Trek-Livestrong fold is Alex Dowsett, who will ride for Team Sky next season. Roe says he enjoyed living with the quirky British time trial specialist in 2010.
"Alex is a nice guy - he's a lot of fun. It's amazing how much he's stepped up this year and turned into one of the best time triallers going round. He deserves it more than anyone - he's worked so hard."
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