After such a long stint in cycling's top tier, it must have taken Graeme Brown a bit of getting used to being back at Pro Continental level, but the Australian has been relishing it.
The 36-year-old spent nine years with Rabobank – which became Blanco and later Belkin – and along the way racked up nine stage wins at the Tour de Langkawi, three at the Tour Down Under, and others at races including the Tour of California and the Tour of Poland.
"I love it – it's great being based in Australia," Brown told Cyclingnews at the Tour of Turkey. "I spent nine years with a Dutch team, talking Dutch, now I can talk Australian and live at home, have that as the base for the year – I'm really enjoying it.
"Obviously a smaller team has a smaller budget so you don't have any big buses like Rabobank, but they do everything you need. Basically the principle behind it is the same, just at a smaller level.
"Rabobank in 2006 was like stepping into the biggest budget pretty much in the world – well there wasn't really a budget, there was a bank, and if you went to the bank you got more money. As you can see now, money doesn't buy results; it buys good riders but not results."
Brown has more than 14 years of professional experience, during which he has worked for the likes of three-time world road race champion Oscar Freire. As such, he has found himself taking on somewhat of a mentoring role at Drapac.
"There's more emphasis on teaching the young guys in the sprint train and putting the system in place to produce the results to try to at least get the train on the tracks," he said.
"It's just general stuff. They don't come to me for advice, I just tell them - even if they don't want to know! In all seriousness, it's my experience, just in the racing, saying 'it's going to work like this', 'this sort of thing could happen', just small things, it's the one percent-ers that make a great difference."
Brown emphasises that Drapac's sprint train is developing bit by bit, that it is very much a work in progress, referring on numerous occasions to the notion of 'stepping-stones'.
That has something to do with his rather light race schedule so far this year. After the Tour Down Under in January and the Oceania Continental Championships in February, he took a lengthy break, partly to move into his new house ahead of Turkey and the Tour of California.
"I've only done 11 or 12 days of racing, so it's hard to evaluate but the season has been good so far. We started well in Down Under, had a win there.
"It's small steps. You can't just jump in at three kilometres to go and have your eight riders on the front like Etixx-QuickStep can, and do. Established WorldTour teams do it all year, every race, for years. For us it's stepping-stones."
One of Drapac's idiosyncrasies is its transition programme, through which it looks to give riders access to a broad range of opportunities and experiences off the bike, with retirement in mind.
This, combined with Brown's age, makes one wonder whether he is winding down, whether he has any plans in place for hanging up the wheels. But he insists he's not looking that far ahead.
"I'm still enjoying racing, and training even. Waking up in the morning and going training is not a problem, so it's not that I’m thinking 'ah I don’t know if I want to do it anymore'.
"Look at my old mate here," he says as Davide Rebellin (CCC Sprandi Polkowice) walks past, "he's 43 and he's still going all right.
"Would I like to match that? I don't know. If I'm still loving it when I'm 43, then why not?"
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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