Matt Lloyd was quietly confident that he could perform well on a number of stages coming into this year's Tour Down Under but a crash on Stage 2 on the descent after Corkscrew Road would see his general classification ambitions dashed. It was a minor setback for the rider who has endured two difficult seasons. Racing at the season opener is all about returning to the races that suit him the most: the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France.
Lloyd crashed at high-speed with a number of other pre-race favourites in the final 20km of the stage from Mount Barker to Rostrevor and had to readjust his role to support his Lampre-Merida teammate Daniele Pietropolli – who would eventually finish 8th overall.
Lloyd had first showed his cards on the early slopes of the Corkscrew climb but he suffered the same fate as world champion Philippe Gilbert along with a host of others. Heading back to Melbourne to escape the European cold and continue his training for the season ahead, Lloyd was confident he could return to the same form that saw him win the KOM classification at the 2010 Giro d'Italia.
"I'm pretty confident that the level hasn't been lost at the top end only the initial races throughout the year that are going to bring it up to 100%," Lloyd told Cyclingnews. "You can obviously try and have a million scenarios that can be beneficial or look at it pessimistically."
Lloyd's most recent result of note was his podium place at last year's Australian National Championships – won by Simon Gerrans – with his last 'win' going back to his mountains jersey from the 2010 Giro. Placing undue pressure to return to that level is not conducive to achieving a positive result, says Lloyd. Instead, continuous hard work and commitment to his job is enough. The results will follow, according to the 29-year-old.
"I think to apply pressure in a really hardcore sense never really works," said Lloyd. "Particularly in cycling, the race program is so extensive that you don't want to allocate yourself to 110% everyday because it's almost impossible.
"The races that would suit me the most through experience have been the Giro and the Tour de France. Solely because you get a number of opportunities in real big stages. If you've been through that and know what it's about then it's very much an easier thing to do second-time around than to not knowing what it's all about.
"Obviously last year [at the Tour] having two crashes on the same arm wasn't beneficial but nonetheless I haven't really seen any reduction in the volume or training and quality of racing towards the end of the year. It's a really good sign as opposed to having longer time periods off the bike and trying to get back to a good level.
"If you look at the characteristics of the season and pick some races to work for the team and then the good results come about personally sometimes at the most unexpected times because the form arrives and the race characteristics turn out that way.
"I think most of us place enough pressure on ourselves. When things start to get better, they do so naturally. I think it will be alright."
Lloyd has the fortunate case of being able to remain in Australia instead of returning to Europe and jumping into the snow-covered roads. The homebase of Melbourne provides Lloyd with the ideal set-up for his season's preparation. Once back in Europe, it's a matter of steadily building toward the grand tours.
"I'm going to head back to Melbourne for another three or four weeks mainly because I really wanted to try it like that. Going back to the European winter through February, most people don't really like doing it and a lot of them have to obviously for a number of reasons. I've found that the training program in Australia is perfect and the weather is fantastic throughout February so there is no real reason why you would be launching into a cold European winter when you are provided with perfect temperatures here.
"Tirreno [Adriatico] or Paris-Nice to start with and then normally you need to look at the races with more climbs like Basque and potentially head up to altitude for a while before the Giro. Then I've just got to see how it goes."
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