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While Caleb Ewan might get most of the attention when it comes to the Jayco-AIS World Tour Academy Team, he is just one of many exciting riders on the squad. Another promising talent is West Australian Robert Power. CyclingTips editor Matt de Neef caught up with Rob at the Tour d’Azerbaidjan where the 19-year-old was riding for the Australian National Team.
I meet Rob in the lobby of the Kempinski Hotel in Baku on his 19th birthday, just hours after the final stage of the UCI2.1 Tour d’Azerbaidjan where he secured the best young rider’s jersey and a very impressive seventh overall. Much like his Jayco-AIS World Tour Academy teammate Caleb Ewan, Rob Power speaks with greater maturity and poise than you might expect from someone his age. He is measured with his words, careful to say the things he knows he should.
“It was a good experience with the team — the whole team bonded really well. Everyone contributed in the team so the whole team got the young rider jersey, it wasn’t me. It was everyone that worked together.”
It took just a couple stages of the five-stage race for Rob to emerge as the leader of the Australian National Team, but as Rob tells me, the team had gone into the race with an open mind.
“Brad [Linfield], Spokesy [Sam Spokes] … they’re all really good so there was no real point in just sacrificing them but everyone wanted to have a crack.
“The first day we all said ‘let’s keep [the young rider’s jersey] in the back of our heads and if you’re up there …’ I ended up being up there after the big split. I think there was four of us [in the race] on the same time.”
Rob had managed to get himself in all the right moves on the first three stages, finding himself just 10 seconds off the overall lead going into the race’s queen stage — a 115km day that finished with a 20km climb to Pirqulu.
He finished 14th on that stage, 3:20 back from the winner Linus Gerdemann, but more importantly the result put him well inside the top 10 overall. The team had been riding for him all day (see this video, from 4:33 in particular) and indeed from the moment Rob had emerged near the top of the GC, a fact not lost on the young West Australian.
“In the race all the guys were 100% committed. They were like ‘do you want a bidon? Do you want some food?’ It was really cool. They’d ride the front and then I’d be like ‘can you move me up?’ and they’d kill themselves [to get me there].”
Rob went into the tough final stage just needing to finish in the bunch to defend his seventh place and his purple jersey, but he wasn’t about to just roll around in the peloton. In the final lap around the Azeri capital of Baku he attacked from the peloton, twice, trying to get away and possibly take a stage win and improve his overall position.
“We did six laps and I figured that on the steep part [of the climb through Baku’s Old City] was the best place to get away. I got over the top with a couple of guys but on the D [the descent] we got caught so I recovered a bit then going into one of the corners I managed to get away and then I got caught coming into the finish line.”
The attacks mightn’t have pulled off, but Rob has much to be happy about after those five days of racing. And while he leaves the race as one of the most exciting news stories from an Australian perspective (alongside Drapac’s Darren Lapthorne who finished third overall), Rob’s success is not wholly unexpected.
He’s only been racing in Europe since July last year but his form has been good and he’s managed some great results. More on that in a moment.
Rob Power started his cycling career at the Midlands Cycling Club in Perth; the same club that kickstarted the careers of Luke Durbridge and Cameron and Travis Meyer. Rob had been a rugby player — his brother Leon currently plays rugby union for the University of Canberra Brumbies — but a knee injury when he was only 13 pushed him towards cycling.
“I was six weeks in a brace and my knee ended up getting really tight so I got into cycling to loosen everything up. I was down at the velodrome and I did a year of racing the velodrome just doing skills and club racing.”
After joining the club’s Sunday group rides Rob made the switch to riding road. He rode his first national championships at 14 years old, then made his way up through the ranks, riding a series of junior tours, such as the Mersey Valley Tour (which still operates a junior men’s tour alongside the women’s NRS race).
In late 2013 he made the National Junior High Performance Program and after a series of great results riding for the squad in Europe — including two wins and another four podiums — he got a berth in the Australian National Team for the road world championships. In the road race Rob attacked in the last lap, trying to bridge across to a small group of leaders, but he was soon caught and finished in the bunch as the best-placed Australian, in 19th place.
Starting the year off right
Rob picked up 2014 where he left off in 2013. After a big pre-season he arrived at the national championships in Buninyong in great form, finishing second in the U23 road race behind Caleb Ewan. His ride earned him a place on the Jayco U23 National Team at the Herald Sun Tour where he managed fourth in the best young rider classification.
In February he went to the Oceania Championships and won the U23 road race, getting in a race-winning breakaway with winner of the elite men’s road race and old club mate Luke Durbridge (the elite men’s and U23 men’s races were held together). Dubridge crossed the line first, but Rob comfortably won the U23 race, drawing praise from the Orica-GreenEDGE TT specialist.
— Luke Durbridge (@luke_durbridge1) February 23, 2014
It was little surprise then when Rob was selected for the Jayco-AIS World Tour Academy program as a first-year U23. He rewarded the selectors’ confidence, finishing on the podium in his first race as an U23, the one-day Italian race Trofeo PIVA Banca Popolare di Vicenza.
@Power95R legend !! First race as you do podium. Good onya mate !!
— Luke Durbridge (@luke_durbridge1) April 7, 2014
Since the start of year he’s also managed a second place in G.P. Palio del Recioto and a top 10 in Gran Premio Industrie del Marmo five days later.
So what sort of rider does Rob Power see himself as?
“I’m not a sprinter”, he says with a laugh. “I like climbs, the longer climbs.”
Ultimately he’d like to see himself as a GC rider, but he knows it will take work.
“I don’t think it’s something that’s going to happen overnight; I think it’s over the next few years. Time trialling is very important; I’ve got a lot of work to do there.”
While he still has plenty to learn, there’s little doubt he has great potential; potential that excites those around him.
“It’s only Rob Power’s first year but he’s unbelievably talented. It’s quite ridiculous actually. One more year of experience racing in Europe and he’ll be incredibly hard to beat”, wrote Caleb Ewan in his latest diary piece for CyclingTips. “Since we’ve arrived he’s already had some really good results and he’s only going to get stronger and more race savvy as the season goes on.”
— Caleb Ewan (@CalebEwan) April 6, 2014
Rob’s director sportif at the Tour d’Azerbaidjan, Brian Stephens — who has spent more than two decades coaching up-and-coming Aussie riders — has little doubt about Rob’s potential.
“We know he’s very strong, he’s just very raw. He’s only a first-year U23 so the main thing is gaining experience and making the right moves at the right time. I think he’s going to be a star — he’s just got to learn when to use the gas.”
And James Victor, head coach at the Jayco-AIS World Tour Academy is similarly complimentary about Rob’s prospects.
“With Robert we’re witnessing a special talent that also has a unique persona who asks the questions, responds well under pressure, wants to learn more about himself and how to work with the team, and thrives on the competitive environment.
“He performed well in Azerbaijan last week against a high calibre of riders, but probably tried a little too hard in the first few days which probably cost him on the decisive climbing days. But still seventh overall and best young rider as an 18 year old is exceptional.”
It would seem that Rob is well placed to have the opportunities to realise his potential. There are as many as 17 riders currently in the WorldTour who came through the same pathway, including riders like Simon Gerrans, Giro d’Italia leader Michael Matthews, Matthew Goss and Luke Durbridge.
Rob tells me that he remembers his time with Ewan fondly — the New South Welshman is reportedly a fantastic cook and taught Rob many great recipes. Indeed Rob recently visited Caleb’s new apartment and was treated to a great risotto.
For Rob, it’s the simplicity of living in Gavirate that he seems to most enjoy.
“It’s a really good setup; it’s really well organised and the staff’s really good with the team. It’s good because you just train, sleep and eat really. There’s a really good atmosphere in the team; everyone gets together.”
The near future
From here Rob focuses his energy on Course de la Paix in the Czech Republic, which starts on May 30. As for the rest of the year, he’s got two of the world’s biggest U23 races in his sights.
“I’d like to be up there at [Tour de] l’Avenir and obviously the world championships at the end of the year is a big target for the national team.”
There’s much to get excited about when it comes to Rob Power’s prospects, and no doubt much expectation will be heaped on his shoulders, as is the case with his teammate Caleb Ewan. But for now the 19-year-old is only concerned about the pressure that comes from within.
“I think as soon as your teammates start putting in so much effort [for you] it puts the pressure on you. Particularly today I didn’t want to let the guys down. That’s the biggest pressure I think; your teammates.”
We wish Rob Power all the best for the season ahead and look forward to watching his progress.