Tour of Southland
PureBlack Racing burst on to the cycling scene at last year's Tour of Southland and went on to a successful debut season in the United States. Nathan Burdon talks with team director Carl Williams.
In a sport where style matters, there are few more stylish outfits than the PureBlack Racing squad.
Those black racing uniforms, the top of the range equipment, the heavy-duty sponsors - New Zealand cycling had never seen anything like it when Carl Williams and his team rolled into Invercargill 12 months ago.
Earlier in the year there had been plenty of fanfare, and not a small amount of scepticism, when Williams launched the team with the public ambition of one day racing in the Tour de France.
A year later and PureBlack has firmly established itself after a season in the United States, which Williams says exceeded his expectations.
"I was stoked," Williams says.
"We achieved a lot more in our first season than, to be honest, I had anticipated, so it's really positive.
"It was great to see the guys step up, the team come together well and the infrastructure really worked - we got to do all the races we wanted to do and pretty much got a result at every race. Pretty much every rider, bar one, actually achieved a major result so the way we got to spread it out was quite cool. It was a great season."
Williams said there were several highlights from the US campaign.
"The first race we did, Redlands, was a highlight, just because we were there racing. It was pretty full on. For Roman (van Uden) to pull off a win and get the green jersey there, there definitely wasn't a lot that could compare with Redlands for excitement," Williams says.
"The whole year, there was cornerstones everywhere. The Tour de Beauce UCI race up in Canada was pretty memorable. Philadelphia, from a one day point of view, seeing all the guys on the front of the peleton after 240km leading out Jimmy and Mike for a sprint. We've got photos of HTC-Highroad and Liquigas all in the mix, that was a pretty special day that one. Obviously the Tour of Utah (van Uden won the sprint jersey) was a pretty special way to finish the year."
After a demanding season overseas, the focus now switches to the Tour of Southland, the race where PureBlack debuted last year.
That event included an inaugural stage win (Mike Northey) and van Uden winning the sprint classification, while the team finished runner-up to Share the Road in the teams category.
Williams, who rode the 2009 tour with his own Bici Vida team, will bring his strongest available squad to Southland, eager to show the race the respect he believes it deserves.
Unfortunately his selection has been affected by the late injury-enforced withdrawal of van Uden.
"I personally put a lot of emphasis on Southland. It's an awesome race, it's a great format and there's such hard, tough racing. It does honestly compete with some of the events we did overseas this year. Emotionally it's where it all began, literally - Bici Vida through to PureBlack so we'll get up for Southland," Williams says.
"Bottom line, we want to win it. We will be coming down very aggressively to do that. I've been priviledged that the last two campaigns I've run down there have been pretty successful. One year was the young riders jersey, the following year was a stage win and the green jersey. Obviously we still want to maintain that high level and we just want to be one of the dominant teams down there chasing the overall victory and some stage wins."
Four-time winner Hayden Roulston will undoubtedly be one of the most-watched riders in the peleton, along with the likes of Jeremy Vennell, but Williams believes PureBlack's strength lies in the team's depth.
"The big thing for us is we are going to have some strong competition, which we are really excited about, getting up alongside some of the guys like Vennell and Roly in that squad, Subway will have a good team - there will be a lot of depth this year and it will be a hard race, probably harder than it's been over the last few years, that's for sure," Williams says.
"One of our main focusses, and our main objective, is going to be bringing that aggressive style that we used in America, and continuing that momentum because that's something the team has become synonymous for now, is a very aggressive style.
"There are going to be guys outside our team who are going to be seen as favourites where as we are just going to bring a really strong team to throw everything at them.
"Out of the six guys that we'll bring there will be a minimum of three guys who will be a yellow jersey threat because of the ability that we've got to defend, the depth of the team. Guys like Scott Lyttle who will go well on days like Bluff Hill and the Crown Range. There's guys like (Tim Gudsell) who is climbing really well at the moment, he won Taupo to Napier and he's got a pretty strong time trial on him. His specialty is riding in the cross-winds. Anytime this year when we needed to make the race hard or there was a cross wind, which the Americans hate, it was Guddy leading the fray. Glen Chadwick has always been up in the mix."
Williams is a fan of the widespread changes which have been made to the programme for this year's tour.
"Awesome, really exciting. It still maintains its theme, they've done well with the timing to make some changes but there will be some significant days there," Williams says.
"Bluff having a longer stage attached to it means there's a possibility of a break surviving to the top for the first time in a while. The double day on Wednesday (200km), the Te Anau to Crown Range stage and the time trial on the last day. I think you are going to have to need a lot of consistency and a lot of depth and you are going to have to focus on executing those last couple of days. We are looking forward to putting some heat on Roly and guys like that.
"Overall I think the race is harder. It plays into our hands more, a team that is well prepared and has good depth, so we are excited. We will be trying to make it as hard as possible for everyone else."
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