He may have ended up a step further away from where he wanted to be at the start of the year, but the glass is half full rather than half empty for Matt Brammeier as he faces into 2014. "The main thing is that I'm still a bike rider next season," the Irish champion told Cyclingnews, confirming that he has signed a contract with the Synergy Baku squad, the Azerbaijan-backed Continental team.
Brammeier began 2013 with the stated aim of working his way back up to WorldTour level, having joined Pro Continental squad Champion System after learning of his departure from Omega Pharma-QuickStep by happening upon an article in a Belgian newspaper at the end of the previous campaign. Such is life in the school of hard knocks.
In spite of aggressive showings at Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Tour of California, as well as a fourth Irish title in 2013, however, Brammeier was again left without a team at the end of the season when the Champion System squad disbanded. Undeterred, Brammeier continued to search for a place on a top-level team right up until mid-November, his positioned strengthened by the safety net provided by Synergy Baku's interest.
"I was in pretty advanced talks with a WorldTour team until last week but that fell through in the end, which was a bit disappointing," Brammeier said. "But I was lucky that I had this option too, so that gave me some security and meant that I could keep looking for a place on a WorldTour team for an extra few weeks."
This year's transfer market has been a particularly fraught one in the professional peloton. Five major teams – Euskatel-Euskadi, Vansoleil-DCM, Saur-Sojasun, Champion System and Crelan-Euphony – have disbanded, and no important new projects have come along to fill the void.
Indeed, as the 2013 season ended, there were in excess of 60 riders still looking for slots on Pro Continental and WorldTour teams, and in the weeks since, places have opened up only sparingly. Meanwhile, fleeting rays of sunshine such as Bobby Traksel's attempt to found a new team for unemployed Dutch and Belgian riders have proven to be false dawns.
"I had contact from a couple of WorldTour teams and I think in any other year, I would have had a place on a WorldTour team for next year, but it's just been a crazy market this year with five teams going under and so many riders left without teams," said Brammeier, who now joins Connor McConvey, Will Walker and Daniel Klemme at Synergy Baku.
While Brammeier believes his best role is as a domestique at WorldTour level, the task he performed at HTC-Highroad and Omega Pharma-QuickStep in 2011 and 2012, he acknowledged that his standing at Synergy Baku will provide him with greater opportunity to chase victories of his own.
"I think that's what I do best, working for other riders, like I've done at WorldTour level before, but at Synergy Baku I will have the chance to ride for myself a bit more often and chase results. I came close to some decent wins last year, especially at the Tour of California, so it would be nice to get one next year."
The Synergy Baku team is managed by David McQuaid, the son of former UCI president Pat and brother of Brammeier's agent Andrew, but the man he knows best at the squad is perhaps directeur sportif Jeremy Hunt. Like Brammeier, the Briton used Girona as his warm weather base as a professional.
Brammeier and his new teammates will assemble for the first time in Spain next month, while his 2014 season is likely to begin with the Tour of the Mediterranean and Tour of Langkawi in February. Given that part of the team's mission statement is the development of Azeri riders ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games, Brammeier is mindful too of his responsibilities.
"It's pretty similar to what I was doing this year at Champion System, really, where I was trying to pass on my experience to some of the other riders on the team, and it's quite rewarding actually."
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