Who is the top team in Australia at UCI Continental level? It's a question that Budget Forklifts' team manager Cameron Watt believes is worthy of plenty of thought and a look at the stats before answering.
There can be no denying that the long-term success of teams such as Professional Continental hopefuls Drapac and Huon Salmon-Genesys Wealth Advisers has earned them top-billing among the three Continental teams on the Australasian circuit. But there has been a shift over the last 18 months, particularly on the home front. Since the beginning of the 2012 National Road Series, Budget Forklifts has won eight rounds, followed by Huon-Genesys with five and Drapac, four.
"We feel that because we're the third continental team in Australia sometimes we get overlooked," Watt told Cyclingnews off the back of the team's latest victory at the Tour of the Great South Coast.
"It's probably not politically correct, but it's like we're the ugly step-child of Australian Continental racing. Perhaps that's because Drapac and Genesys have had so much success for a long time. We'd like everyone to focus on the now, and recent times – we've matched them and if not out-raced them in recent times so we're every bit a part of the scene as them."
In June, Budget Forklifts made the most of limited opportunities to race on the UCI AsiaTour – with one, maybe two invites available for Australian-registered teams at each race – finishing with Kristian Juel and Blair Windsor in the top 10 overall at the Tour of Singkarak. It was a big result for the team in a fruitful week with a stage win for Jacob Kauffman, and three other podiums. As it stands, there was just one race on the Oceania calendar, the New Zealand Cycle Classic, apart from the continental championships.
"In one way there hasn't been much of an incentive for us to continue as a Continental team," suggested Watt. "If we can't get the starts and if there's no Oceania calendar, why invest so much money?"
Bluntly, watching Drapac and Genesys perform well on the AsiaTour is hard for Budget Forklifts because more of than not, when the teams return to Australia the squad in yellow and black has gone toe-to-toe and come out on top.
"Singkarak confirmed that we are at that level, and that's no disrespect to the Drapac and Genesys guys who have been getting those results because it's awesome for Australian cycling, but we want a piece of the pie too," said Watt.
Despite some speculation to the contrary, the team will be continuing in 2014 and at the UCI Continental level.
"I think one thing is the eternal hope that the Sun Tour will become a UCI race again," said Watt when asked what makes it worthwhile to fund the racing program. Oceania President Tracey Gaudry indicated to Cyclingnews earlier this year that a 'mini calendar' will be back in place by 2015 with three projects on the table for 2014. "This year we did had plans to do a little bit more in Asia and do four or five tours but at this stage we've only been able to secure two starts." The team will next take on the Tour of Hokkaido mid-September.
The battle for the home front
At the half-way point of the 2013 National Road Series, Huon-Genesys hold the top two spots on the individual ranking via Nathan Earle (58 points) and Jack Haig (53). Next best is Budget pair Jack Anderson (42) and Sam Horgan (32). The team rankings tell a similar story with Huon-Genesys in the lead on 163 points, and Budget Forklifts second on 115. Drapac is fifth on 53 points having not contested all rounds of the series, instead focusing on Asia.
Having secured the NRS individual prize last year with Luke Davison, who's since moved to Drapac, Budget Forklifts is set to make a solid push for back-to-back victories in the back half of the season having secured the win at the last two events, the Tours of Gippsland and Great South Coast.
With Gippsland winner Anderson not racing at South Coast, the focus went off the team and in the meantime Horgan held the race lead for all but the first stage. Watt believes that without Anderson on board, other teams were lulled into a false sense of security.
"That's part of being the so-called third Continental team in Australia, we're underestimated and under-rated," he said. "I just don't know why that is."
Next week's Tour of the Murray River, which is down to a more-reasonable seven stages from a criterium-heavy 14 stages in 2012, will see the battle for supremacy resume with the type of racing on offer more rewarding for the team's manned with all-rounders likely to benefit.
"We always knew that once we got away from those tours that focused on pure physical ability, like a TT or a hilltop, that we were fully confident that one the road, and especially when we get to the one-dayers that we'll back ourselves every bit," said Watt. "Having won Gippsland and South Coast, I think we've got a right to be confident."