After a mixed European campaign, 2013 Team Raleigh signee Mark O'Brien is back down under and ready to race with South Australian based team Euride Racing. The team run by O'Brien's long-time coach and current Australian head of track endurance, Tim Decker, is a perfect fit for the Australian climber who will be racing alongside London Olympian Alex Edmondson amongst other regular Euride members.
O'Brien was the premier climber of the 2012 Subaru National Road Series (NRS) with three hill top victories, three overall tour victories and a second overall in last year's Tour of Tasmania for Budget Forklifts.
He started the year with a top 15 at the Australian nationals and a third place behind Nathan Earle (Huon-Genesys) on Arthurs seat in the Herald Sun Tour. The next step for O'Brien was a wintery welcome to Europe as he settled in England with compatriots -and teammates- Richard Lang, Lachlan Norris and Sam Witmitz.
"My racing schedule at the start of the year was excellent, having some great races like Haut Var, Sud Ardeche, Circuit des Ardennes, and Tour de Bretagne, which finished May 1st," O'Brien told Cyclingnews. "Unfortunately since then I haven't returned to European racing, and until the weekend [where O'Brien resumed his Australian racing campaign] I'd had 5 race days within the UK."
As O'Brien explained, the criterium focus and lack of invites to other races from the middle of the year onwards for Team Raleigh meant that he was left with little racing to do.
"The crit series are of huge importance to the teams in the UK, and with crits not my strength, there wasn't really much for me to do," said O'Brien. "As I had a big period without much racing, I decided to take my off season back in August. I got to do some fantastic traveling, but it wasn't so kind to my waistline, meaning that I've been on a slow weight shedding path.
"I'd like to think that by the back end of Tassie I will be starting to be competitive for a stage win, and then bombing for Warny [Melbourne to Warrnambool] and Grafton [to Inverell]."
Single stages at last
With the new-look Tour of Tasmania now devoid of any double-stage days, the Australian peloton is full of excitement, and this excitement is something shared by O'Brien.
"I think the new course is brilliant. I was checking out all the profiles last night and I was super impressed with how consistently brutal the tour is throughout," he explained. "Throughout my experience in the NRS there are usually one or two days that are solid, but Tassie is really catering for the climbers and hard men that no other Aussie tour has before."
With another European campaign fresh in his mind, O'Brien also believes the new format is exactly the tonic needed as Australian cycling looks to continue its development on the world stage.
"Having the day in day out hard stages would definitely better prepare riders for Europe, and as the fields get stronger, they'll be able to increase the distances," he explained. "One of the things that makes Australian racing great is the criterium mentality of going flat out from the gun.
"And I assume that as the scene keeps developing, gradually more riders will be able to sustain that intensity for longer races."
The Tour of Tasmania commences on Sunday September 29 with a 17 kilometre team time trial to the summit of Mt Wellington.
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