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A stellar 2014 season in the U23 ranks confirmed Rob Power as one of Australia’s most promising up-and-coming riders. A lengthy stint on the sidelines due to injury seemed to disrupt his rise through the ranks but now, at the Tour of Britain, Power is back amongst it.
Daniel Ostanek caught up with the 21-year-old Western Australian to see how his recovery is progressing and what might be next.
For Orica-BikeExchange, this week’s Tour of Britain is all about its young riders. Twenty-two-year-old sprinter Caleb Ewan is the team’s big draw as he prepares for his first senior World Championships in the sprinter’s paradise of Qatar. But the race also marks the return to stage racing of Robert Power, the promising 21-year-old from Perth whose pro career was put on hold last November when doctors discovered he was suffering from a rare form of bone marrow oedema.
Power’s 2014 results — including a trio of race wins in Italy and a second overall at the famed espoirs race, the Tour de l’Avenir — saw him earn a contract with Orica-GreenEdge, announced during the 2015 Tour Down Under. At the time, team sports director Matt White called Power “one of the most exciting climbing talents we’ve seen in Australian cycling for a very, very long time.”
Overall victory at the Giro della Valle d’Aosta saw Power installed as favourite for the 2015 Tour de l’Avenir, but a knee injury in July saw him end his season early. Further scans at the Australian Institute of Sport then revealed his rare and untreatable condition, which occurs due to a fluid build-up in the bone marrow. At the time Orica-GreenEdge doctor Peter Barnes estimated a recovery time of anywhere between four and 24 months.
Nine months later and Power is back racing, having made a low-key return to the peloton at August’s Arnhem-Veenendaal Classic in the Netherlands. It was an experience he said he “really enjoyed” when CyclingTips caught up with him in Glasgow, at the start of the Tour of Britain.
A laid-back and relaxed Power, sporting hair recently grown out to long curls, was enthusiastic about his return to racing.
“I’m pretty excited to be racing with the team, and we’ve got Caleb here so all the guys are motivated,” he said. “Yeah I’m really looking forward to the week.”
He says his illness is now a thing of the past.
“It’s pretty much gone for good now – I’ve just got to get fit again,” he said. “Training has been on and off but I’ve been back for three or four months now.”
According to Orica sports director Matt Wilson, recovery was a “very slow process” for Power. That process included a return to Power’s home of Perth for rehabilitation, including time spent with the swimming squad at the Western Australia Institute of Sport. Months of early mornings in the pool were supplemented by light training on the bike as Power toiled to get back to fitness.
With a six-month layoff before his return to full-time training on the bike — and no racing in over a year — it wouldn’t have been a surprise if he’d just rolled around Britain, hidden among the peloton, getting much-needed kilometres into his legs. But on the hilly stage two in the north of England he was up front testing himself. It didn’t work out.
“His eyes were a bit bigger than his legs I think,” joked Wilson after the stage — but he finished a creditable 49th place on a stage which tore the peloton apart. “Yeah I had a little dig, just tested the legs,” Power said the next day.
Four stages through the nine-stage race Power lies around midway on GC, 68th out of 120 men. The placing isn’t particularly important but after such a long break from racing, it certainly shows his natural talent and good base level. After stage four Power was positive about his progress.
“Everything is feeling good and I’m enjoying being back,” he said. “I think I’m on track – still got a bit of work to do though.”
With several tough stages still to come there’s ample opportunity for Power to get that work done, to continue his progress towards what will be his first full pro season in 2017. Beyond Britain there are plans to give him as much experience as possible, with Wilson saying: “The plans are to get as much racing in his legs as we can and sort of hit the ground running for next year.”
It’s a future that hasn’t been affected by Power’s illness, at least according to his DS.
“He turned pro so young [aged 20] – he isn’t delayed,” Wilson said. “The illness isn’t going to make a difference to his career at all.”
Those words will be reassuring for everybody who feared for Power’s career. Based on what he has shown so far at the Tour of Britain he looks on the right track and well on his way back to full-strength.