Rob Britton’s podium performance at the USA Pro Challenge last year capped off what turned out to be a dream season for the Canadian. Although he was forced to watch his former team SmartStop fold, he signed a two-year deal with the newly named Rally Cycling (formerly called Optum) and says he’s ready for the excitement and challenges that come with building on his past successes.
“I believe my position on the team is to facilitate success,” Britton told Cyclingnews. “So whether that’s going for the podium in Tour of California or riding on the front and putting Eric Young in a position to win a stage in Utah or Colorado, or setting up one of the guys to take a KOM or Sprint jersey. As long as the team finds success, it’s job done.”
Britton admitted that he nearly left professional cycling twice, in the fall of 2011 and 2012, after several rocky seasons but a last-minute contract with the UK-based Raleigh team kept him in the sport in 2013. The following year he signed a deal with Michael Creed’s SmartStop team through the 2015 season, which ended up being his most successful two years in cycling so far.
“I don’t think either of us knew what was possible,” Britton said. “I’ve learnt and developed more in the last 24 months working with Mike Creed and training properly with Chris Baldwin than the 10 years prior. The guys and the team I was surrounded by helped me redefine what I was capable of as a bike racer.”
Although Britton had a couple of strong rides in 2014 at the Vuelta Independencia Nacional and Tour de Beauce, both second overall, his stand-out season was last year. He took the overall win at the Tour of the Gila in May and went on to a top-10 overall at the Tour of California, in part due to an 11th place on the stage 7 summit finish on Mt Baldy.
Come August, Britton turned heads with a second place in the USA Pro Challenge stage 5 time trial in Breckenridge, followed by a third place overall behind winner Rohan Dennis and runner-up Brent Bookwalter, both from BMC.
“Last year really was a dream season for me but if you look back at 2014 it didn’t just appear out of thin air,” Britton said. “Chris, Mike and I found a blueprint of races and training that worked really well in 2014 so all we did for 2015 was make a few little tweaks and I think we really hit our marks.
“A lot of people see Colorado as the big one, and on paper it was huge, but for me I think Tour of the Gila was something really special. We came really close the year before so to come back and seize the opportunity was amazing.
“Looking ahead to this year, I’m really excited. The Rally team’s infrastructure is incredible and the roster is stacked with talent. I’m very confident we can improve on 2015.”
Michael Woods’ move up to the WorldTour ranks with Cannondale Pro Cycling left the door open for director Jonas Carney to hire Britton as the team’s go-to overall contender. Carney and Britton were able to reach an agreement that would allow him to stay with the team on a two-year deal, through 2017.
“With this team I’m really happy,” Britton said. “I know all the guys. I like the race program. I can really pick my goals and work towards them.”
It will be hard to top last year’s successes but Britton says he has seriously considered his objectives for 2016 and he would like to take a similar approach and target similar races again.
“After Colorado last year, I had to take a serious look at what the new objectives would be and how we’re going to improve on 2015,” Britton said. “As it stands right now it’s pretty simple for me, keep the Tour of the Gila title within the team, and other than that I’ll be aiming for big things in all three of the big US races in California, Utah and Colorado.
“I have a special eye on Tour of California. Anything on top of that is just a bonus.”
Along with racing with Rally Cycling, Britton hopes to join the Canadian national team at the Olympic Games in Rio. The team will have three spots for the road race and one for the time trial.
“I very much have a desire to race for Canada in Rio this summer,” Britton said. “Obviously I have to really excel at all of the bigger races we do in the first half of the season to show I’m capable of being at the front end of the race after five hours, which you don’t get very often racing in North America.
“The course suites me quite well. It will be a long, hard and hilly day, and the big efforts come later in the race, which is something I’ve always ridden well in. I have a rough idea of what I need to pull off to get on the short list but selection to a race like this is more than results sometimes, so I guess we’ll see.”
Asked if he had any offers to sign for the WorldTour after his performance in Colorado last year, Britton said he spoke with a few teams but no offers were presented to him. He says he’s happy with his decision to race with Rally Cycling and the stress-free feeling he has from signing a two-year contact.
“For the future, you’re guess is as good as mine, I’m not scared to race in the WorldTour but it would need to be the right situation for it to be worth it - 2018 is a long ways off.”