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by Sophie Smith
October 10, 2015
Photography by Cor Vos
Australian sprinter Chris “CJ” Sutton is contemplating his cycling future as he searches for a new team. The 31-year-old was not offered another contract extension at Team Sky and so will call time with the British outfit he has marked a six-season berth with at the end of the year.
Sutton has returned to Australia ahead of his wedding in two weeks and is treating a back injury as he also tries to find a stable for 2016.
“I’m still looking for a team and nothing is concrete yet,” he told CyclingTips. “My manager [Andrew McQuaid] has been looking around and I’ve been asking a few teams as well because I think it’s good for a rider to have contact with the team and show interest in joining.
“Whether I’m going to be a professional bike rider or not I’m still going to ride my bike,” he added.
“I’ve been a pro for 10 years, which is, for me, a big achievement and I’ve got a lot of great memories at Sky. My manager is on the case and, yeah, if I can’t find a team I can’t find a team. I’d still like to be a professional bike rider, and be part of the WorldTour, at least next year, but in a sense that’s kind of out of my hands.”
Sutton opened his season in January at the Tour Down Under, where he finished fourth in the prelude criterium, and achieved minor places at the March Tour of Langkawi and June Tour of Slovenia.
The 2011 Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne champion had a rough run with injury in 2013 but found form at the end of the season, winning the Japan Cup, and was able to negotiate another season with Sky, which he represented at the Tour of Romandie and Giro d’Italia, the latter working for sprinter Ben Swift, despite managing an aggravated knee complaint around the time.
This season he said was equally mixed with a bout of salmonella he contracted at Langkawi negatively impacting on early goals.
“I was down and out for a quite a long time,” Sutton said. “I started to get going and was I was ready to hit the last part of the season good but ended up getting another injury. It wasn’t the best way to finish off the year but the team [Sky] has been great; they’ve really helped me out a lot getting it sorted so I’m on top if it and keen to start riding again.”
Sutton is still motivated to compete and points to numerous podium finishes he has recorded in past years as testament.
“I’ve had a couple of podiums this year and it’s like, what do you have to do these days to actually merit another contract, pretty much, in a team? I’m pretty lucky, some people go through 10-15 year careers and never win a race,” he said.
However, the Vuelta a Espana stage winner also acknowledged factors not necessarily working in his factor, including a proposed 2017 UCI WorldTour reform, which has seen some cautious teams this year downsize in preparation.
“A lot of the teams are taking on fewer riders now so obviously it’s a lot harder and they need young guys. I’m one of the older guys now, as much as it hurts to admit it!”
Sutton says he leaves the triple Tour de France-winning outfit Sky on good terms and has vouched for it conquering a speculated Grand Tour title treble next season.
“It’s been a dream to be there as one of the longest standing riders,” he said. “They are obviously going for more stage races these days and I think everyone can see that with the signings [more climbers] that they have brought to the team. They’ve got a great chance next year of wrapping up all three Grand Tours, to be honest, and that’s a big thing for them. I’ll be watching them with great interest anyway.”
Sky does not have any Australian riders on its books for 2016. Sutton is outgoing, Richie Porte has signed a lucrative deal with BMC and Nathan Earle yesterday confirmed a contract with Drapac.