At 28, Nathan Earle is approaching his peak years as an athlete. At 28, he is also facing the possibility of retiring from the sport of cycling with no contract forthcoming for the former Team Sky rider.
Earle spent the 2016 season with Pro-Continental squad Drapac, who are merging with the WorldTour Cannondale team from 2017, and having been unable to secure a place in the new set up finds himself team less and facing an uncertain future.
Drapac teammates Graeme Brown, Travis Meyer, Adam Phelan and Bernard Sulzberger will all retire at the end of 2016 and Earle is hoping a strong Australian summer can help him avoid hanging up his wheels for a few years yet.
"Quite simple really, train well and look after myself and so everything right so that I turn up to nationals and ride my arse off," Earle told Cyclingnews of his plans to continue his career. "Assuming nothing pops up in December team wise, I will be team less for 2017 which is the first time I have ever raced nationals without a team at all. I don't really see the nationals course as being a problem. If you are strong and fit you are going to be there or you are not really. I'll just fly under the radar hopefully but who knows. If I am good enough, I should be there as it's quite a natural selection kind of course. It's all positive thoughts. Nothing daunting or scary. Just work hard and go there and be the best that I can be."
Earle's last race in the red Drapac colours came back in July at the Volta a Portugal, flying out of Lisbon a matter of of hours after the final stage back home to Tasmania. At the time, Earle didn't think it would be his last race for Drapac as he was hoping for starts at Tour des Fjords, Tour du Limousin, or Tour of Hainan and Abu Dhabi Tour which was provisionally on the team race calendar. However, with the team merger Earle explained that there was a plan of sharing around the racing between the riders.
"It was a bit of an anti-climax really, there wasn't any feeling that this was my last race and there wasn't any 'I won't see any of you guys again' because maybe I will, maybe I won't but I kind of thought I would. I got home and realised, that's it. I am not doing Hainan and so it was kind of all over," he said. "I didn't have any time around the team to say bye or have any feelings in that regard. Which I guess is nice to be in front of everyone and say thanks and wish them all the best but it is just the way it goes."
Once back home in Tasmania, Earle was also waiting to find out his future and if he would be part of the merger between Drapac and Cannondale. Earle explained that he found himself in a tricky situation during the process as he was also reaching out to other teams to ensure he had a contract. In the end, he was left with nothing but wasn't blaming Cannondale-Drapac for not signing him up.
"It was some time really. I never got the 'no'. I got the 'maybe, we are not sure' sort of answer," he said of the response from Cannondale-Drapac. "I guess the more likely you are to go to the new merger team, the more likely you are one of the last guys who gets told which puts you in a sticky situation. As far as I know, I don't know what everyone was told, but from what I've gathered I was one of the last guys was told that I wouldn't have a spot," he said. "It was ok, they made their decision and it's fine. You are holding onto that glimmer of hope that it's a yes but at the same time, you are thinking it's an unlikely 'yes' because you are being realistic with yourself with results and things. It is hard, in my own mind I know I am capable of going to that team and doing a damn good job and whatever I need to do. I've proved myself like that but I also know that it is not what I think about myself. It is what your potential employer thinks about you. I can understand on paper there is not much to think about from my season and when they said no, it was like 'ok that is disappointing' but I felt it was coming."
When it was official he wouldn't be returning to the WorldTour, Earle explained it was "damage control trying to get as many contacts as possible and seeing what was left really" which proved to be very little.
One final crack
Earle's performance at the nationals on the Buninyong circuit will be key to his hopes of continuing his career as the race also serves as the final selection to secure a place on the Tour Down Under UniSA-Australia wildcard team. He is hoping that by placing himself in the 'shop window' at the Australian WorldTour race and also with the national team at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Rad Race (29 January) and Herald Sun Tour (1-5 February) he could be a late addition to a teams 2017 roster and continue on his career.
"It's easier said than done. Everyone is going well at nationals but I have proven in the past that I am always thereabouts. It is a course that suits me and if I knuckle down and work hard now, there is no reason why I can't have a really good performance at nationals and go to Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Race," he added of his aims for January. "That is all I really have as an option anyway so it's not like I really have a choice in the matter. It is either retire and get a real job, or have one last crack at nationals. I am not scared or anything. I am confident with those races. I have done them all before, I've done well in nationals in plenty of years so it is what I am going to do. I could stop riding now but I am prepared and have the motivation and drive to train and prepare and do nationals. In my mind, things look pretty grim at the moment but it is not over until it's truly over. If I thought it was too hard and I don't know what my future holds or whatever and stopped now, I would never be content with that.
"I still have the motivation to ride my bike. I have been speaking with Andrew Christie-Johnston from the Avanti IsoWhey team and he is prepared to lend me some equipment for nationals and help with accommodation," he said of his former team manager. "My coach Mark Fenner is fully behind me and knows he can get me flying for nationals. He knows I am capable of getting a good result."
Having left "no stone unturned" in search for a team, Earle explained he is surprisingly relaxed about his current situation.
"I couldn't do it any better than I am doing right now. I have drive and discipline and everything is happening like it should. I think I am relaxed in the knowledge that everything that could be done has been done and if something is going to happen then it will," said Earle whose wife Kat is expecting their first daughter in just a few weeks.
Before joining Sky for the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Earle worked part time with racing with the Genesys squad. It's something he is not keen on returning to with the Australian summer to be make or break.
"It is a really hard question. Riding full time for x amount of years like I have, I just can't see doing both of things to best of my ability. I am an all or nothing kind of person, I hate half-arseing stuff. If I am working part time and riding part time and racing part time, I am not really doing anything properly and at the end of the day, I don't see any satisfaction in that," he said.
With his focus on extending his career, Earle is reticent to give too much thought to a career beyond cycling, but is certain he won't be working "nine-to-five". Having won his club title and state title in recent weeks, Earle is hoping is bodes well for his quest to have a good showing at the national championships on January 8.