Graeme Brown did something he'd never done before in 2015. Ride for a professional Australian team. 12-months on from signing for the Pro-Continental Drapac team, the 36-year-old will join his teammates for a training camp in the Victorian town of Bright ahead of a busy summer of cycling.
"I enjoyed it, I did plenty of hours in an aeroplane though which is a problem with a world wide schedule being based in Australia," Brown told Cyclingnews of his first season with Drapac which saw return from Europe to set up home down under. "In terms of quality it was as good as all my years as a pro. It was a good year and one that wasn’t stress and relaxing but it was more relaxed."
Riding for the Dutch Rabobank team at the top level of the sport, Brown was a regular at grand tours knowing well in advance which races the team would be lining up at. While Drapac were relying on race invitations, Brown explained his race program which wasn't too dissimilar to previous seasons having initially thought he would be racing predominately in Australia and Asia.
"I was quite surprised as the races we did were just Pro-Continental but they were quite big starting with Tour Down Under. I did Tour of Turkey which I did with Rabobank, I did Tour of California which I did with Rabobank, and all the races were all big races. Colorado as well..."
Another change for 2015 was a revelation of sorts for Brown who spent more time training than ever before, leading to the realisation that "You don’t have to be race fit, that’s only if you cant train," he said.
"For me, I physically felt good as I had fixed periods of time where I could go out training. Originally I didn’t like that, I just liked the idea of racing, probably because the last 14 years it was race, race, race. You only had two real training periods in the year, the Australian summer and European summer. Now I had quite a lot of big blocks with up to a month between races which I found let me recover properly from a race and prepare for the next race. Whereas in Europe you have a race every weekend."
Having worked the likes of Mark Renshaw, Theo Bos, Oscar Freire and Michael Matthews with the Rabobank teams, when Brown was racing this season he had two young sprinters to pilot to victory in Wouter Wippert and Brenton Jones. Explained the key to winning sprints is simple, listen to your lead out man.
"They understand that I do actually know what I am talking about," he said of the two riders. "They don’t question, Wippert started to question but I told him to shut up and follow, but I found with every sprinter that I’ve worked with if they stating making their own decisions then it starts going wrong," he said, adding "With Brenton, he listens to everything I said, never questioning my ideas on how a sprint would go. Finally it worked out for him in the end. I didn’t ride that much with BJ during the year and with Wippy when he was on it was good. He’d just follow and when he was really good he never said anything and just followed my wheel and was close to wins."
As a seasoned professional with two gold medal to his name, when asked if Brown was learning from as his younger colleagues as well, he answered "You learn something new everyday is a daily saying of mine", but was quick to add it wasn't anything tactical. "I’ve been exposed to so many races and all the training theories in the world."
In 2016 Brown will have the assistance of Jens Mouris, a rider he pushed for Drapac to sign, in the sprint train with all hands on deck to deliver Jones to victory.
"Brenton Jones’ win on the last race of the year was something he needed and something the team worked extremely hard on to pull off," he said of one of the year's highlights. "You can say it was China and Hainan but Sacha Modolo was there (Giro d’Italia stage winner, ed)… the team gave him a full lead out everyday and finally on the final stage he got the win. It was as bigger team win as you can get, everything worked well, we dominated the sprint train and then he finished it off."
With his sprinting days well behind him, despite enjoying a brief return in Hianan when "BJ got lost a couple of times" Brown is focused on winning, and only winning, races in 2016.
"Just wins. As long as the team is winning as many wins as possible," he said of what would make a successful year. "For me, that’s the a success. You can say at some races the team is happy with top-five, but I am only happy with wins. I don’t care if they come second or third. As long as the team can win and move forward with Michael Drapac’s dreams for the team then that’s a success."
At 36, some riders might be contemplating retirement but not for Brown who could well be around to help team owner Michael Drapac achieve the "ultimate goal" of racing the Tour de France.
"I think as long as a, you enjoy doing it which I still do, and b my body holds up which it does. And I get paid of course. As long as those three things are there then why not?"