Seven new faces headline Drapac Professional Cycling’s roster announcement for 2014, as the team continues to progress towards gaining a UCI Professional Continental licence – believed to be the only team in the world upgrading their status for the coming season.
Team Manager Jonathan Breekveldt said that the inclusion of Jack Anderson, Jonathan CantwellW, Jai Crawford, Ben Johnson, Jordan Kerby, Lachlan Norris and Wouter Wippert to the squad cemented Drapac’s credentials as a world-class line-up.
“For our first year back in the Professional Continental ranks it is important to find the correct balance between experience and youth. With Jonathan we have a proven winner and somebody who can bring valuable knowledge from the World Tour. While Jordan and Wouter are both younger, but equally talented, I am confident we can help develop into both great athletes and successful young professionals.
“It is also great to be working with Ben Johnson who suits the team’s philosophy having taken some time away from the sport to complete his studies and ensure he is adequately prepared for his future.”
One of the fastest men Australian road cycling has ever produced, Jonathan Cantwell joins Drapac Professional Cycling in 2014 following two seasons with ProTour outfit Saxo Bank-Tinkoff.
Cantwell, a former Australian National Criterium Champion is hopeful that the team’s proposed race calendar will provide him with plenty of opportunities to return to the form that saw him become one of the most-feared sprinters on the US circuit.
“This is about me seizing the moment and taking the opportunity when it presents itself. Being 31, I’ve still got quite a few years of good cycling in me, probably my best is to come,” he said. “Looking towards the long term with the little family that I’ve got now, this is a fantastic opportunity to move back to Australia and to Melbourne which is something new for me. I’m really excited for the new challenge.”
“I actually feel like while it’s a new team for me, I already have a bit of history with Drapac. Having raced against these guys for so many years in Australia it\’s really exciting. Having Henk as part of the team is also very reassuring.”
Recently runner-up on CG at the World Ports Classic, Cantwell claimed two victories in his first year in the UCI ProTour ranks in 2012 at the Tour de Taiwan and also completed the Tour de France. This season, along with racing the grueling Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix, Cantwell has scored nine top-10 results.
“As an athlete, I’m a lot stronger,” he believes. “It’s all about getting through those 200km-plus road stages, whereas previously racing a lot in America, you’d never race over 140kms. To have that foundation behind me now and to get through the Tour de FranceW last year, the depth and the amount of racing that I’ve done over the last two years has really turned me into a better bike rider. I’m a faster sprinter; I’m stronger on the climbs.
“Hopefully I can pass on what I’ve learned to some of the younger guys at Drapac and I’d love to be in the position to mentor them.”
Jordan Kerby was catapulted into the limelight in January, joining a who’s who of Australian talent to claim the National Under-23 Road title and then blasting his way to victory in the Jayco Herald Sun Tour Prologue in Williamstown. Racing the majority of the current season with UCI Continental team Christina Watches – Onfone, the 21-year-old claimed two top-five finishes – one at the Tour du Maroc, another at the Tour de Korea – in a baptism of fire.
Kerby recently returned to Australia to close out the year with the Budget Forklifts Continental squad. He\’ll take a hard-earned break shortly before beginning his preparations for the 2014 season and said he is looking forward to making the most of his opportunity with Drapac’s Professional Continental team.
“From what I hear, it’s run very well and being an Australian pro team, I want to be a part of that,” Kerby said.
“I’m going into my final year as an Under-23 and I’ve been racing for a long time. I definitely think that I’m ready. Racing in Asia and the US suits my abilities and looking back at the last few seasons, I’ve constantly been improving every year so I definitely think I can step up next year and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Kerby first gained the cycling world’s attention by winning gold with the Australian squad in the team pursuit and individually he claimed a second gold in the points race at the Junior World Track Championships in 2010. Two seasons later, Prologue wins at the Tour of Thailand, North Western Tour, stage wins at Mersey Valley and the Tour of Gippsland cemented his transition from the track, and Kerby also finished 10th on GC at the Tour of China II.
Jai Crawford is arguably one of the most underrated talents of his generation with the Tasmanian climbing specialist joining Drapac from Huon Salmon-Genesys Wealth Advisers. A former stage winnner at the Tour of Utah, where he out-gunned Levi LeipheimerW on Snowbird, Crawford is relishing the opportunity to race at the Professional Continental level after a stop-start career.
“It wasn’t easy to leave Huon-Genesys because they’ve been really good to me. They saved my career,” said Crawford, currently racing at the Tour of Tasmania.
“Drapac is well-established and with Henk Vogels joining the team, I know him really well from my Fly V days and I get along with him, he’s a great motivator and in the end having thought about it I realized that if I turned down the opportunity, I’d be mad.”
The 30-year-old is hoping that the step up to Professional Continental level will spur him on to return to the form that saw him take the win in Utah and also improve on his second overall at the Tour de Langkawi.
“That’s what Henk and I spoke about right from the get-go,” Crawford said. “That’s why he wants me on the team and he really motivates me. Races like Langkawi where I’ve finished second before and it’s a race that I’ve always wanted to try and win with my best form. Even for this year since I found out that I was going to sign with Drapac, I’ve just been doing things a little bit better and it shows. I’ve been travelling a lot better here at Tour of Tasmania.
“Having Lachie Norris, Lappers – they’re both really strong climbers on their day, it just adds to what is a really strong roster across the board.”
It’s a re-invigorated Jack Anderson who joins the team in its new era, with the 26-year-old from Queensland finally able to put pen to paper for 2014.
“I’ve actually been trying to get a ride with the team from my early days as a cyclist back in 2006,” he explained. “I was very close to signing with them back then but it never happened. We’ve always kept in touch but it never worked out for whatever reason – until now. It’s always been a team that I wanted to be a part of and certainly now being the only Professional Continental team in Australia, it’s something very special.
“This is going to be an exciting time for Australian cycling.”
The talented all-rounder won this year’s Tour of Gippsland in the Subaru National Road Series with Budget Forklifts, giving him a taste for more.
“A GC win somewhere would be nice and I definitely think I have that in me now. I’ve improved my climbing a lot and it shows in my results this year.”
Dutchman Wouter Wippert is a new international face in the Drapac squad having spent key development years with the Lotto Belisol program before joining Team 3M in 2013.
Wippert, a former winner at the Tour de l’Avenir, said he was very motivated to be joining the team.
“I’m excited to race in USA, Australia and on the Asian Tour,” he said. “It’s a cliché but it really is a dream come true to race at this level and I’m determined to make it the start of something successful.”
The 23-year-old sprinter has twice finished in the top-10 of the Under-23 event at the UCI Road World Championships in 2011 and 2012 – the tough courses highlighting his staying power on a lumpy parcours. Last season, he also finished third at the European Championships.
Having first ridden for Drapac in 2010, Lachlan Norris returns to the squad following a season with Team Raleigh in the United Kingdom.
Norris, former Australian Under-23 MTB XC Champion, was in his second year with Drapac Professional Cycling in 2011 when he was selected by the HTC HighRoad team as a stagiaire. At age 26, Norris is due to come into his best years on the bike.
Winner of last year’s Tour of Tasmania, Norris has twice been runner-up at the Tour of Bright, was fourth on GC at the Tour de Taiwan in 2011, and has raced in the green and gold bands of Australia on multiple occasions, both on the road and in MTB.
Rounding out this announcement of new recruits is Ben Johnson. Now 30, the Queenslander is making a return to top-level racing – he’s hesitant to use the word comeback – having completed a university degree and working in his family business. Johnson is, in essence, evidence of the true spirit of the Drapac model which has always placed equal emphasis on athletic, career, personal and social development.
Johnson previously raced with Cofidis, Agritubel, Slipstream before walking away from the sport in 2008, admitting he was “jaded and disillusioned. It was a pretty tumultuous time in professional cycling.” Illness and injury were other factors in him taking a step back.
Back in training in August and racing with the UCI Continental team at the Tour of the Murray in September was enough to seal the deal for Johnson.
I was really surprised after not a lot of training that I was well within my limits,” he explained. “With a bit of training and application I could be really competitive. I want to be one of the best riders in the team and I really believe that I have a lot to offer.”
Johnson said that the rise of Orica GreenEdge to the WorldTour ranks in 2012 saw the flame of desire once again reignite, with the final step in the pathway for young Australian cyclists finally complete.
To race with an Australian-based team is something that I always wanted to do,” he said. “This opportunity is great; I don’t think there’s another scenario where I could find myself back in the sport full-time.”