In anticipation of the second National Road Series (NRS) race of 2014 starting tomorrow, the Adelaide Tour, Cyclingnews spoke to SASI (South Australian Institute of Sport) team manager Tim Decker about the upcoming season and what he expects from the domestic racing scene this year.
This is the second article in the NRS weekly team features by Cyclingnews. You can read about Satalyst Giant by clicking here.
Cyclingnews: How has your preparation been for the start of the 2014 NRS series?
It's probably a bit different to other years given that this year we've gone back to, especially for the first half of the year, more of a development group because most of the elite SASI riders are over in Europe. So we're dealing with juniors and some good U19's who'll go to the track worlds. We're dealing with Tom Kaesler who went to the road worlds last year. The preparation has been good but it's not all built around the NRS. We use the NRS for a variety of events which may be Australian championships, Oceania road championships.
CN: How do you decide on your team rosters? What processes do you go through in recruiting riders?
I decide the team roster on the riders that need that style of racing for the bigger events they have coming up, i.e. junior track worlds, junior road worlds, European preparation. Our squad is probably different from your typical NRS squad as the NRS is the pinnacle for what they’re chasing. Yes, we're chasing results in the NRS but we're looking at the big picture which is getting our riders prepared for the bigger races such as European racing.
CN: What is different about the team this year, compared to last?
Last year Euride were keen to set the world on fire and wanted to combine with SASI to have a fair dinkum crack at the NRS. I said I could supply the athletes and the brain power to rattle some feathers at the top end of the NRS which I think we did quite successfully and Euride were the sponsors behind us tackling the NRS to its fullest capabilities
This year, most of our riders that we had last year are doing a full season in Europe or have Commonwealth Games commitments, i.e. Alex Edmondson, Harry Carpenter, Robby McCarthy, and George Tansley. Most of those riders this year are out of the Australian scene and preparing for other events. Hence why we won’t tackle all the events.
CN: What is your racing calendar?
We'll do six out of the eleven NRS events and possibly one more later in the season with those riders who are in Europe when they are back in Australia and are building back up for the track season or road nationals. So this year, we haven't taken a backward step, but we're not tackling the NRS full steam ahead to win the series overall or that kind of stuff. We're utilising it for our athlete's preparation in other events.
CN: What are your thoughts on the NRS calendar in terms of length and location?
I think the NRS has a good spread of races as in, around Australia. It has a good spread of different distances and I personally don't mind the 100-120km races because what we're doing here, is developing riders that may turn professional and I don't think the NRS is big enough yet to say 'we need 200km stages at every stage race or 160km.' We need to realise that we are also developing juniors riders, that is U19 riders and we need to cater to them because we have some pretty good juniors coming through.
So I'm pretty happy that the races are 120km and we do have our long races at the end of the year [Grafton to Inverell and Melbourne to Warrnambool] but it happens that by the end of the year, all the people calling out for longer races are tired because they have been going to all these five or seven day tours and you can't have your cake and eat it to. Some people need to make decisions on what they really want.
I think there is a good spread and we have a really good set up but once again, the NRS is a great development to help riders get used to European racing and I think its come on in leaps and bounds in recent years.
CN: What are the expectations of the team for the 2014 season?
My expectations for the riders is that we are looking to really gain good experience. For Tom Kleaser, it’s about starting to step up and start getting some results in these big tours and on hill climbing stages. I'm looking to the younger crew to gain development of racing in bunches with 100-150 plus riders which they'll get in Adelaide and being able to utilise that experience when they get to Europe.
As far as results go, this year we're certainly not chasing an overall team win or anything like that. But we will be chasing winning bike races. Winning stages or races and one-day events and that's what it's about this year; teaching guys to win.
CN: Is there a particular race the team is targeting this year? Why?
The Adelaide Tour is the first one of the year and everyone seems to be in good condition. In realistic terms, if we wanted to have our ‘strongest' team here I would have held back four or five riders who have just left for Europe but we're really looking at our next tier of riders stepping up at the Adelaide Tour. Tom Kleaser should be fighting it out over the Corkscrew and hopefully for a good overall position. Then we've got George, Callum Scotson and Alex Porter that will be good for chasing stage placing or wins.
The next big ones we'll target are Tour of the Great South Coast, Tour of Gippsland and Tour of the Murray. They're the main races where we will have the junior guys at. Towards the end of the season when Alex Edmondson, Harry Carpenter, Robert-Jon McCarthy, George, Miles Scotson and Josh Harrison come back, we’ll probably look at Tour of Tasmania and Warrnambool.
CN: What is the hardest race on the NRS calendar?
If you looked at one race, the Melbourne to Warrnambool should be the hardest. Its 265km long with hills, winds, time in the saddle, different weather conditions but any one of these races, it depends on how hard the teams actually race them.
CN: Do you expect there to be a stand-out rider this season?
The NRS is a great model that we have going at the moment but most people will be quite switched on that each year, you see that small group of people dominating the races. Last year it was Alex Edmondson winning stages, Jack Haig winning overall and Nathan Earl as well [both Avanti]. It always comes down to 10 good guys out of 170. I reckon you'll see one person dominating the stage races, the hilly ones with climbs. Tim Roe (Budget Forklifts) has already featured this year. He's shown that he is the strongest climber and will probably maintain that throughout the year.
Shannon Johnson (Charter Mason) is a guy who is going to stand up in the bunch sprints this year. He's been involved in the sport now for a few years. Yes, he's an older athlete, but that doesn't mean he's not hungry to win races. I know the guy and he's pretty hungry and he'll target the criteriums, short road stages and Kermesses.
The Avanti team is super strong but they have so many good bike riders but they can't all go and race. In some of these races, you have good bike racers sitting at home because they are signed up to a team and there are eight starters but they aren't getting a start
I think this year you'll see Roe, Drapac who'll probably come in and out, Haig sounds like he'll be coming in and out and won't dominate like he did last year [Haig was the overall NRS winner in 2013] and he's looking to move onto bigger and better things. Budget Forklifts will stick behind Tim pretty well. You'll probably get those same ten names throughout the year.
CN: Financially, what are the major challenges in racing the NRS?
It’s financially challenging to compete at all the NRS races and financially, I see the NRS being gobbled up by the three major teams which have the biggest budgets. Until there is some sort of evening out process which makes it more affordable and more even for all teams to compete for the next however many years you want to say. The NRS is going to be dominated by Avanti, Budget and Drapac, if they decide to actually support all the NRS races, because they are the teams with the biggest budgets. They can afford the riders, they can afford to go to every event and they support it well. All the other teams, I won't say they are making up the numbers, compared to those three teams, but you probably are making up the numbers.
CN: Who are your main equipment sponsors?
Champion System, South Australia Sports Institute are obviously the biggest contributors and Kabuto helmets.