Former Footon-Servetto rider and Pegasus Sports recruit Johnnie Walker believes that the Australian pro team project can fourish in a European Continental setting, despite the setbacks it has suffered in recent months.
The 23-year-old Victorian has enjoyed mixed fortunes in 2010; having signed with the aforementioned ProTour squad for the season and enjoyed success in his neo-pro year, which included 10th in stage 13 of the Vuelta a España. The changing landscape in which Mauro Gianetti found his squad led to Walker entering discussions with Pegasus Sports' Ed Beamon late in the season, however.
"I'd been talking with Footon during the year and they were pretty happy - we obviously started talking about the following year but then I did the Tour of Hainan - which I really rode just to go and finish the season because most guys didn't really want to go to China - and I ended up second overall," Walker told Cyclingnews.
"Fly V was there and I spoke a bit with Ed Beamon; I'd spoken with him briefly before and when he talked about it [the Pegasus Sports project], it all sounded pretty exciting - that's how I first came into the Pegasus fold. I was quite late onto it, which is why most people don't even know I was there - I was the 25th and last rider signed."
When Pegasus Sports CEO Chris White announced the project's major backer had jumped ship earlier this month and the team was denied a ProContinental licence, it left Walker in a precarious predicament and decisions had to be made. Eventually his love of the sport dictated which direction he wanted to take.
"When it looked like I maybe had no team I thought about racing back in the lower levels or maybe stop cycling straight away," Walker revealed. "There are other things in the world I can do. That's the nice thing - I have a very supportive family and I could do whatever I wanted to do. My brother's done pretty well doing what he's doing, but obviously if you love it, it'd be hard to leave the sport to which you've dedicated so much of your life."
Whilst there are no guarantees about where Pegasus Sports will be racing in 2011, Walker is confident the team can provide a platform for more European racing - not just for himself, but also for the riders not yet contracted with other squads and in need of opportunities for next year.
"It's been an interesting few months; obviously contract talks started in September and I've had quite a few positives come my way. But to be at the end of December and still not be really sure about my future..." he said, trailing off as he recalled the uncertainty of the past few months. "Things are looking good. I guess you have your highs and lows... it's just cycling at the end of the day. It's not the end of the world.
"I really do like the sound of Pegasus and what they have proposed - I went to the team training camp in Queensland. It was probably the best atmosphere of any team with which I've been involved. The directors were really motivational and spoke positively about races. In terms of riders it was a really good group of guys - no egos, a bunch of really cool dudes. We had a pretty good time there," he continued.
"If it does work out - and it's looking good - success comes from a good atmosphere and this team has it.
"Now we don't think about the big starts that we once did but these days the calendar's so tough - there are plenty of high level races that are tough races to even think about winning. At Continental level there are still enough tough races to keep you motivated."
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