Sean Lake made his National Road Series (NRS) debut just over 12-months ago at the Melbourne to Warrnambool winning what is regarded as Australia's toughest race on the calendar, the Grafton to Inverell the next week. 2015 would be Lake's first full season on the bike having previously competed at international level with the U23 Australian rowing team and showed he is no one trick pony as he became the first rider to win back-to-back editions of the race.
The 23-year-old will ride in the blue colours of the Avanti Racing Team for 2016, explaining to Cyclingnews it was a "no brainer" to sign on for the number NRS team for five years running.
"Avanti is definitely the place to go to get to the next level and reach your potential and the team has such a great track record of churning out riders and taking people like me and managing to get them to the next level so it was a no brainer that it was the right place for me to go and I am really excited for it," Lake said.
Lake kicked off his first full season at the Australian national championships in January, followed up by the 1.1 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and 2.1 Jayco Herald Sun Tour in February with his Continental African Wildlife Safaris team. As a relative newcomer to the sport, Lake described both events as eye openers getting his first taste of a peloton containing WorldTour and Pro-Continental teams.
"I was really fresh in terms of learning for Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and the Jayco HeraldSun Tour and it was a great experience to ride with and against those WorldTour guys. I was feeling alright in the Cadel Evans Race but ended up getting caught in a crash at a roundabout with a couple of the Orica GreenEdge guys and that was day over," he said. "Herald Sun Tour was my first real proper tour that I've done and it was a massive learning experience. I was trying to get into the break each day but couldn't quite manage to do that. I was really happy one-day with a decent lead out but it was just real small baby steps at that time of the season."
Asked if there any specific lessons learned at the Sun Tour, Lake answered the learned a few secrets to making a break stick.
"I definitely realised on the day where it took I think 50km for the break to go just how much energy I was wasting trying to get into every move, following every move and making the attacks off the front myself," he said. "Watching the experienced riders getting in the move, they managed to get into the move without hardly any energy and just their ability to stay at the front, or near the front, made me realise how much energy I was wasting."
While the season for Lake was one of learning as much as possible, there were specific skills he was working on further developing as he explained.
"Being pretty fresh to the sport I was looking to learn as much as I possibly could and take in every race as an opportunity to learn. It was really good having Michael Schweizer and Pat Lane on the team to learn as much as I could from," he said of his teammates. "I was definitely looking to get results in the NRS time trials that I could and do well in general classification. I got close to a few podiums with a few fourth places earlier in the year and then towards the season I was feeling like I had progressed, tactics were getting better and that enabled me to get a couple of results that I was after."
Lake won his first stage of a NRS stage race at the Tour of Tasmania, holding off the fast charging peloton by half a second in a win that got the "confidence going and had me getting pretty excited" before the one-day Melbourne to Warrnambool, the penultimate race on the calendar with his Grafton defence to follow.
Going into the final race of the calendar, Avanti lead CharterMason-Giant by one point ensuring it was winner take all in the team standings and a hard day out for Lake who need to get the better of both teams. Describing the early action of the race, Lake recounted how Avanti "drilled it up the climb really hard", managing to "drop all the CharterMason riders" before team time trialling for the next 50km to ensure the Melbourne-based team pulled out of the race.
With Avanti's dominance of the team standings secured for another season, Lake explained his team then set up about winning the race with Lake and the then 18-year-old Cyrus Monk animating the front group.
"It came down to a really small group of six to eight riders were we had three guys, myself, Cyrus Monk and Pat Lane, who just managed to work it," he said. "Cyrus went first and put everyone under pump then Cyrus and Pat went together while I was just able to sit in the wheels as they were brought back. After that I put my attack in with 55km to go and the other riders in that group were sick of chasing us African Wildlife guys and I was able to get away and stay away.
"Everything was pretty much perfect," he added of the win. "It was special to get the teams classification as well and with the team having to go for a new sponsor, it was great to finish off on a super strong note and to see Pat and Cyrus get some rewards with a personal result was great as well."
Looking ahead to 2016 with Avanti
Along with claiming top stop on the NRS team standings, Avanti have also become renowned for sendings its riders to the top level of the sport with its alumni including the likes of Richie Porte, Jack Haig, Steele von Hoff, Nathan Haas and Campbell Flakemore to name but a few. The opportunity the team presents its riders to take that step up the ranks was just one of the reasons Lake inked a deal with the Continental team as he explained.
"I am really looking forward to being part of a really well organised outfit and they have some great guys on boards running the show with Andrew Christie-Johnston and Mark Fenner and I am really looking forward to working with them, it sounds like they have plans to put together a really good racing season and I can get some more international racing experience under my belt," he said. "Of course they have a really great team lined up which we'll hear more of soon so it's going to be a really great season."
Time trialling will again be a focus for Lake in 2016 as he also looks to further develop his climbing and challenge for GC at select races. It will also be another season of learning for Lake but he is an ambitious rider looking to make an early impression at the team's first races of the season.
"I think being so young to the sport I have to soak up as much as I can and learn as many lessons as possible. Taking the step up to doing races in Asia will be a really big part of that and I am looking forward to it," he said of the upcoming season. "I'll be targeting the national time trial and look to do well in the road race, and then Cadel Evans and Sun Tour I'd be really keen to do those races and I'll do everything I can to ensure I am strong enough to be selected for those and be one of the best few riders on the team to get a spot for those races."
Lake may be a newcomer to the sport but there no return to rowing on the cards with the Melbourne-based rider looking to make cycling his profession for the years to come.
"Absolutely, I'd love to take the next step up to being a professional rider," he said of his ambitions. "There is a lot of work and a lot more learning in that hopefully I can put together two really good seasons now to take that step up."