For Sutherland, who has been with UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team in its various guises for the past six seasons, it was a case of now or never.
"It's probably similar in some sense to guys that started late in Europe like Jason McCartney, Horner, Levi," the 30-year-old told Cyclingnews from Boulder, Colorado. "All these guys that raced for quite a while in the US until their late 20's, early 30's and then they've decided at some point that ‘hey, are we going to sit in this intermediate place of a Pro Continental team or are we going to take the leap of faith?'"
Sutherland is exceptionally grateful for the opportunities afforded to him in the United States and UnitedHealthcare has become an extension of his own family, so tight-knit is the squad right through to management and support staff. But with an increasing number of stage wins on a world stage as racing has expanded in Sutherland's adopted home in the United States, has come the niggling feeling that he was destined for something more.
"I've been putting the decision off every year and not really pushing to try and make the move to a WorldTour team and this is the time to do it and I'm very happy with what I'm going in to," he explained.
Sutherland's results, especially since UnitedHealthcare moved to Professional Continental status for the 2011 season have been intensifying from seventh overall at the Tour of California, tenth on GC at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, and then this season the top step of the podium at the Tour of the Gila, Tour de Beauce and a stage victory at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
"I've got results in Europe in bits and pieces but I'm obviously not proven at a full European level which makes it difficult to come into a WorldTour team," he admits. "I'm not a neo-pro who's gagging for that position to do all the crappy races and suffer the whole time. I'm at a different point in my life and from the discussions that I've had with Bjarne [Riis] about it, we seem to be very much on the same page. He's not paying me to be a neo pro, he's paying me for the opportunity at the highest level to see what we can do with my potential, or to see where I can end up."
Europe of course is not uncharted territory for Sutherland, who raced with Rabobank until 2005, even riding the Giro d'Italia in his neo-pro year. In terms of what his race calendar might look like, he's yet to work that out but he is certainly keen on a return to a grand tour stage.
"It doesn't mean that I'm looking to do anything spectacular, but just getting that grand tour under the belt will really propel me in the second half of the season or the season after that, really bring me up that extra notch," Sutherland explained.
Going out with a bang
If there was an ideal way to close this chapter in his US career, Sutherland's capture of the top ranking in the UCI America Tour was it. In second place heading into the USA Pro Cycling Challenge and Tour of Colorado, Sutherland's victory on Stage 6 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, sealed the top spot. His ranking points makes him especially attractive to Saxo Bank-Tiknoff Bank as it works to safeguard its WorldTour status for 2013.
In the day's break, Sutherland launched a solo attack at the base of the climb heading up to Flagstaff Mountain and eventually claim a triumphant victory from several pursuants including Jens Voigt, Tim Duggan, Levi Leipheimer and Christian Vande Velde. It was also UnitedHealthcare's first stage victory in the event.
"I'm definitely Australian; I'm always going to be Australian but having lived here for the last six years, and a lot of the Australians live here in Boulder, this is as close to home as we're probably ever going to get," Sutherland said.
"It was the biggest day of racing that's ever happened in the United States with the amount of people, the course, the media in Boulder, the heartland of cycling in the US with my family at the finish line was a pretty special and emotional thing, that's for sure."
It was the kind of form which unsurprisingly landed Sutherland a spot on the Australian team long list for the UCI Road World Championships for the second year running but with on-going contract negotiations and limited racing leading up to Limburg, he decided to take himself out of contention.
"If I'm going to go to the world championships I want to be ready to go," Sutherland said. "I'm not doing it half-arsed. If I was based in Europe it's an easy decision. What I've learnt over the last two years from racing across two continents is that flying into a race two or three days before doesn't work properly for me. Next year could be a different beast having a home base in Europe."
For now, Sutherland is happy to enjoy some down time with his young family before the build up to season 2013 begins. Like most, he's been watching the growing list of names joining his new team with anticipation and considering just where he is going to fit in the new line up.
"It's a tough one because I'm not a pure climber by any stretch of the imagination but I can climb just fine," Sutherland told Cyclingnews. "And I'm not a pure sprinter but bring me to the finish of a sprint with good legs and I can sprint just fine - I think I can do a lot of different races which is a good thing. I can get through grand tours; I can get through some of the big, hillier races. I think this first year both for myself and the team is just going to be a learning experience."
As a sports journalist and producer since 1997, Jane has covered Olympic and Commonwealth Games, rugby league, motorsport, cricket, surfing, triathlon, rugby union, and golf for print, radio, television and online. However her enduring passion has been cycling.
Jane is a former Australian Editor of Cyclingnews from 2011 to 2013 and continues to freelance within the cycling industry.
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