Cycling can be a cruel master as Jai Crawford will no doubt testify. Contractless for 2012, Crawford is facing the prospect of a premature retirement - something that would have seemed hard to contemplate just 12 months ago.
Back then, Crawford was fielding offers from several teams on the back of an impressive debut year in the US, capped by a stage win and fourth overall at the Tour of Utah. That came after a break-out 2009 in which the 27-year-old finished runner-up at the three of the major Asian Tour races, the Tour of Langkawi, the Tour of Malaysia and the Tour de Korea.
But the decision to link up with the ill-fated Pegasus project in late 2010 proved to be the start of things unravelling for Crawford. What seemed a dream move quickly turned awry when the team collapsed in early January, leaving Crawford and many others in limbo. Team rosters were more or less full, and unlike a number of higher profile professionals like Robbie McEwen and Robbie Hunter who were awarded eleventh hour contracts, Crawford was left teamless.
Regardless however he ploughed on. Off the back of a strong ride at the Australian national championships, Asian based Giant Kenda came out of the woodwork and offered him a lifeline in February to ride in his pet race, the Tour de Langkawi. Perhaps thematically however a paper work error meant he was unable to be registered with the team in time for the start and was forced to sit-out the race.
While that issue was eventually overcome and Crawford did manage to complete a fullish season with Giant, his 2011 has been so derailed by interruptions, that he has stuggled to string together the same consistency of years past. He has posted top ten overall results in the Tour de Kumano, and the Tour of Tasmania, but neither race are representative of the high standard Crawford holds himself to. That's made finding a team for next year that much harder and as the Australian explained to Cyclingnews has him now considering his future in the sport.
"[The fall apart] of Pegasus was just massive. I mean it's one of those things where you think you've finally had your big break. I think a lot of guys thought that," said Crawford. "It's a lot easier once you get your foot in the door but I've never had that opportunity. I thought [that opportunity] was Pegasus but we know how that went. Late last year I had options, but I just don't have the same options this year.
"I think as well it's been a bad year to have a bad year. It's not just me looking for a ride, there are a lot of good guys still looking for teams, which is a sign of how things are at the moment.
"The situation is really difficult, you've got family obligations, you have to pay the bills and the rent, and as much as I love cycling, there comes a point where you have to confront walking away."
It's a bitter irony that had the new UCI points system come into effect last year, rather than this year, Crawford would have been an attractive option for many WorldTour teams. GreenEdge had even been in contact with Crawford earlier in the year, but with his key points from 2009 expiring for 2012, and the tightness of the application process, they told him he'd have to look elsewhere.
"I had some contact through my manager, and there was certainly interest, but it really did come down to the WorldTour points, and after this year I didn't have any."
Other teams have expressed interest in Crawford but for whatever reason things just haven't gone through. One professional continental team was very close to signing Crawford, but negotiations broke down at the last minute. In the worst case scenario Crawford is willing to get another job and ride on the NRS but that really is worst case and he's still holding out for something from one of the continental teams who have not yet filled their 2012 roster.
"It's November, so it's getting late, but there are definitely teams who I hope will still make contact. It's terrible when you look at guys like Bernard Sulzberger, who's a great bike rider has had to go to such a small team like Raleigh but that's the state of things."
"If nothing comes through then I'll have to try and make a bid for nationals. Hopefully I can do something there, but otherwise I'll have to consider calling it quits.
"My wife is really supportive of what I do. But it's also myself, it's really not an option to ride next year for nothing, we want to build a family and [riding for nothing] wouldn't be in our interest."
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