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He’s far better known as a mountain bike rider, having taken third in both the Commonwealth Games cross country race and this year’s World Cup plus second overall in the latter in 2013. However Dan McConnell has been confirmed as a surprise addition to Trek Factory Racing’s team for the Santos Tour Down Under, which will one again open the WorldTour calendar next month.
Speaking to CyclingTips, McConnell gave his reaction to the team’s decision and outlined the reasons why he and the squad believe that the foray into road racing makes sense in advance of the 2016 Olympics.
“I was very exited to hear it was possible to get a start,” he said, talking in advance of the official announcement. “Obviously it is a very big race in Australia. So to do the race will be pretty exciting. It is also a really good opportunity for me to experience something a little bit different, but at the same time really good preparation for my mountainbike racing as well.
“I am hoping that by doing the Tour Down Under, I can get a really big base this coming season and come to 2016 not feeling that I have to catch up. I can then just focus on peaking and on my speedwork.
“So this year I am really looking to get that good base with the Tour Down Under in the middle of my summer.”
The different demands of MTB competition and road racing mean that the crossover is something which doesn’t take place too often. Cadel Evans is the best example of a cross country rider making a successful transition to the road, with the former world MTB World Cup champion going on to win the Tour de France and clock up many extremely impressive results during his ‘second’ career.
Another who also made the transition is the 1999 world XC champion Michael Rasmussen, although his career took a very different trajectory to Evans’. Ryder Hesjedal and 2000 Olympic XC gold medallist Miguel Martinez also went from MTB to road racing.
McConnell has spent the bulk of his career focussing on XC racing but has at times dabbled in road events. He rode the 2006 Tour Down Under and some clearly-defined memories from that.
“I did it with SA.com,” he said. “That was an interesting time because I had just come straight off the mountain bike with no road prep at all, so it was pretty tough. It was super hot too. It was the year that Matthew Lloyd had that big crash and passed out. I was on the same team as him that year.”
He knows that the 2006 event and the current incarnation are not the same. “It is so big now. The spectators are crazy, a lot of spectators. It should be really exciting.”
McConnell’s other road experiences include riding criteriums for training, with those short, sharp events syncing well with the length of many MTB races. However he’s also ridden many other races, netting third overall in the 2006 Tour of Hokkaido, finishing 11th in the 2008 Australian nationals and again in 2012, and clocking up an impressive second place on the Arthur’s Seat climbing stage in the 2013 Herald Sun Tour.
He may lack the experience of many of the WorldTour riders, but given the fact that the timing of the Santos Tour Down Under is perfect for him and other Australia-based riders, he is aiming to be in good shape and ready to race hard.
“The time of the season is good for me to do some road, because it is the only time of the year where I can do a lot of base kilometres,” he said. “When I am in the mountainbike season, the training is much shorter. The races are only an hour and a half so I only have to rain for that in mind. But over the Australian summer, I normally do some fairly longer stuff so that simulates the road a little bit more.
“I won’t try to change too much, but at the same time I don’t want to go there and not be in good condition. I want to go there in good form and gain some good experience. I certainly won’t be taking any shortcuts.”
“I’d say the climbing stages will be favourable for him.”
Trek Factory Racing team manager Luca Guercilena is looking forward to seeing how he will do. He said that the temporary switchover is possible due to the structure of the title backer’s sponsorship.
“Trek owns a handful of cycling teams, and they all compete under the Trek Factory Racing umbrella,” he explained in the team announcement. “These cross-over projects are very valuable. Grégory Rast rode a cyclocross race the other day, and Sven Nys swaps cyclocross for mountainbike and road cycling in summer.
“This is a great opportunity for all parties involved. I saw Dan’s power output numbers and I’m curious to see how Dan will fare in a stage race on the road.
“A mountainbike race is a highly anaerobic event, significantly more so than road racing, but there are similarities. It will be especially interesting when it comes down to climbing. It’s more individual effort, a bit like a time trial, and Dan can produce consistent high power for a long period of time. So I’d say the climbing stages will be favourable for him.”
Right now, with several weeks to go until the start, McConnell said that he won’t take anything for granted.
“I am not too sure about the goals to aim for. I guess it sort of depends on the team. I am not even sure of the roster that is coming over just yet,” he said.
“I am more just looking forward to something totally different… in mountainbiking we have team aspects but once there is racing, there was only me and Sergio this season. So there is only so much you can do in terms of a team element.
“I am definitely looking forward to experiencing that part of things as well.”
For Trek, the net effect should be a beneficial one. Even putting results to one side, there will be a publicity benefit to having McConnell there. His presence will ensure awareness of and publicity for the MTB team, while a certain number of mountainbike fans will tune in because of his participation and learn more about the road squad.
He’s also certain to attract a solid amount of media coverage due to his background.
Looking behind the event itself, McConnell should gain from his ride in the Santos Tour Down Under.
“Our mountainbike World Cup season next year doesn’t start until the end of May, which is a long time,” he explained, looking to 2015. “So to have a big race in January sort of takes the pressure off that longer term goal. It gives me more of a shorter term focus to stay motivated.
“I am excited. Hopefully it will be fun and I will get something good out of it.”