Jai Crawford may have been a late inclusion into the Jayco-2XU team for the Tour of Tasmania, but you could be hard-pressed to find a hungrier member of the peloton as he makes is return to the National Road Series for the first time since 2009.
The 28-year-old joins a cracking line-up for the Pat Jonker-directed outfit for the 10-stage Tour with Mark Jamieson, Trek-LiveStrong pair Dale Parker and Josh Atkins, recent Victorian Open Road Championship-winner Ben Hill, Nick Dougall, James Hepburn and Trenton Day set to tackle the final round of the Scody Cup.
"We've got a strong team with Dale Parker who's obviously a very good bike rider and there's a bunch of young guys there who are travelling pretty well and are full of motivation," he told Cyclingnews.
Crawford's previous appearance in the NRS was at the Tour of Gippsland and the Tour of Tasmania with the Savings & Loans squad in 2009, where Jonker was also director, netting top 10 results on general classification.
A chance meeting with Jonker, who was working with the US National Team at last month's Tour of China where Crawford was racing for Taiwanese outfit Giant Kenda, reacquainted the pair.
"We'd spoken a little bit about it but obviously he had to look after the regular riders on the team but a spot popped up through injury and here I am," the Hobart-native explained. "It's good, I've been looking for a ride in Tassie for a while but no one was really interested because they've all got their regular riders and they don't want to kick someone off just to put me in."
There are few events on the NRS calendar better suited to the tenacious climber than the Tour of Tasmania, and off the back of the Tour of China where he helped teammate Muradjan Halmuratov to overall victory, Crawford is hopeful of a strong performance.
"Traditionally races in Australia haven't suited me but Tassie's a little bit different with the climbs this year so it's definitely an opportunity for me to show myself so I'm looking forward to it," he said.
"I think a lot will be told following the time trial – it's the first stage and there could be fairly large time gaps after that stage but once you get that out of the way then I'll have a look at it. I definitely would like to target the GC."
Up and down and back again
There is more to Crawford's story than just the local rider looking for an opportunity on home turf. The former mountain biker forged a career on the Asian road scene after a disastrous start with British Continental team Driving Force Logistics in 2005, claiming the overall win at the Tour of Siam for Giant Asia (Giant Kenda's former guise) in 2007. Two years later and riding for the Australian National Team at the Tour de Langkawi, Crawford well-and-truly made his name with a courageous second placing behind Jose Serpa in the Genting Highlands – a performance which went a long way towards him finishing runner-up overall.
Last season, riding for Fly V Australia, Crawford claimed the biggest win of his career, prevailing in an all-out battle against Levi Leipheimer for the finish line on the fifth and final stage of the Tour of Utah. It was a little over 12 months ago and Crawford felt like he "had options".
One of eight riders from Fly V Australia selected to join Chris White's ill-fated Pegasus Sports project, which failed in its bid for a UCI ProTour and Professional Continental licence, Crawford has since struggled to get his career back on track.
If there was a shining light, it was at the Australian Open Road Championships in Ballarat in January, where Crawford toughed it out in the day's break with eventual winner Jack Bobridge before fading to 17th across the finish line.
"I targeted Tour of Langkawi; I got over there and I wasn't able to start due to registration timing," Crawford recalled. "I've had very few opportunities this year and there's been issues with my current team as well so it's been very difficult to keep going.
"So I'm pretty hungry to race and to do well in Tassie and maybe get some sort of feeling that I've done well this season. It just hasn't happened for me this year it's been tough."
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