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by Matt de Neef
April 11, 2018
Photography by Con Chronis
In early February this year, Colombian climber Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) rode solo into the Lake Mountain Alpine Resort to win the queen stage of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. It wasn’t a huge surprise — the best climber in the race on the race’s best team had won on the tour’s big uphill finish, setting up overall victory.
What was surprising was the rider that followed Chaves across the finish line. After his Mobius-Bridgelane teammates set a scorching tempo at the base of the Lake Mountain climb, Alex Evans, a little-known 21-year-old from Victoria, rode away from a group of favourites and held on for an impressive second place. He would finish the Sun Tour in eighth overall as a result.
While Evans wasn’t a complete unknown to those who follow Australia’s National Road Series (NRS) — he won the uphill finish to Poatina at last year’s Tour of Tasmania — his ride at Lake Mountain was certainly a breakout performance. It was also a ride that attracted the attention of several WorldTour teams.
Two months on and former triathlete Evans is preparing for a block of racing in the USA — his Mobius-Bridgelane team is taking part in the Joe Martin Stage Race, the Tour of the Gila and the Redlands Bicycle Classic. The team did Gila and Redlands last year but in 2018, as a newly minted Continental team, the Sydney-based squad is back in the US having learned a lot.
In 2017 they suffered in the thin air of New Mexico’s Tour of the Gila. This time around they’ve come over early and have been training at altitude, preparing themselves as best they can. And they go into the races with real ambitions, thanks largely to the exceptional promise of Alex Evans.
CyclingTips caught up with Mobius-Bridgelane general manager Tom Petty to talk about the upcoming racing block in the USA, what Alex Evans might be capable of in these races and beyond, and what the future could hold for Mobius-Bridgelane. The following Q&A combines two conversations — one from the Sun Tour and one from the past week — and has been lightly edited for fluency.
Mobius rode a ferocious pace at the start of the Lake Mountain stage to set Evans up.
CyclingTips: What are your ambitions going into this block of racing in the US, and particularly the Tour of the Gila?
Tom Petty: I hope to crack the top 10 on GC. And that sounds like a modest goal but the fact of the matter is the USA has had a massive spike in Pro Continental teams. You’ve got Rally, you’ve got UnitedHealthcare, Hagens Berman Axeon, Silber Pro Cycling, Holowesko as well. There’s a lot of Pro Continental teams and a lot of good Continental teams and they have a lot of good club riders too.
So being that level of UCI race [ed. UCI 2.2] it’s going to be an open race, because there’s no WorldTour teams to take the reins. It kind of means the racing’s a lot more chaotic and free. It’s great to spectate but it’s very hard going.
I personally know how much effort everyone’s put into this and I’d love to be able to get a win, try and win a stage and try and keep ourselves up there. I actually feel like to go top 10 on GC is going to be a massive ask in itself.
What will it be like going back to Tour of the Gila after Chad Young’s tragic death there last year?
Not sure. I’ve thought about that a lot. Pete Livingstone was the rider that we had that crashed with Chad. We chose to not select Pete for Gila but he’s racing the other two races. And I don’t know whether I would say I made that decision specifically because of that but … I would probably think about it every month.
It’s not a thing that you leave behind lightly and we didn’t even really know Chad. I can only imagine what it would be like for his teammates and the other people that really did know him.
I think it’s going to have a sombre overtone before the race starts but as soon as you’re in and racing you go into a different mode. Definitely on that final stage, as you go past that point … it would be too hard not to think about it. You just have to use that memory as a motivator and a positive thing rather than let it get you down too much.
Presumably Alex Evans will be your GC guy over there?
Yes. Alex is clearly an exceptional climber. Some of the power testing we’ve done just in the last few months — it’s insane. His numbers are just ridiculous. He’s a very talented rider.
We’re lucky — we’ve got a really good group of guys around him like Brad Evans and Angus Lyons who are just very experienced riders. The learning curve off the bike is happening [for Alex]. We’ve raced him quite a bit at the smaller races just to bring him up to speed. He’s definitely up for the challenge. We’ll commit to the plan. He’s easily out best option.
Ethan Berends did quite well in the young rider classification there last year — he definitely was until the final day. Ethan’s been preparing a lot at altitude as well. Ethan obviously already won the Gravel and Tar UCI 1.2 race earlier this year so he’s on good form too and he’s kind of the secondary GC guy.
Can you say more about Alex’s numbers? How good is he?
The guy does over 450W for 10 minutes. And that was up Poatina at the Tour of Tasmania last year. He’s a light guy — 62 or 63 kilos — it’s very impressive numbers. I’ll leave the readers to do the maths.
Numbers alone isn’t going to win but we noticed last year in the USA, climbers win climbing stages, TT riders win TT stages, sprinters win sprint stages. It seems to get a result in the US you have to be a specialist …
His ride at Sun Tour up Lake Mountain was exceptional — it makes sense now with those numbers …
No discredit to him, but that is not all he is capable of. He has more than that.
He’s a strong talent for sure. You’ve got riders that are not very good but know a lot [and] you’ve got riders that are exceptional and know not very much. And Alex is … he’s on that side of the scale. We’re really lucky to have guys like Brad Evans, Alistair Donohue, Angus Lyons — we’ve got some really experienced guys around him and his learning curve is just beginning. His attitude is excellent to these learning experiences that he’s having. So ultimately we’ll just start getting there.
We’re a punctual team and I don’t think Alex owns a watch. At the start of the Lake Mountain stage he rang me and all the team cars had left. And he’s like ‘Ah, have you left?’ And I’m like ‘Yeah, did you forget something?’ And he’s like ‘Oh, I’m still here.’ So we actually had to turn around after 10 k’s from Seymour and we had to go back to the accomm and pick him up.
So yeah Alex’s ride [at Lake Mountain] was great but he almost didn’t make it to the start. I think he actually said that in the meeting at dinner that it was like “I couldn’t let [everyone] down”.
You were saying in an email that you think he’s on track for a WorldTour contract. What does he need to get there?
I feel like he’s on track. We know with any athlete you can have the ability, but you need the mindset. The way that he pushes himself in a bike race is right up there with the best of them. He said after the Sun Tour stage ‘I literally had no choice but to just absolutely go all in because the team had just ridden so well.’ He’s someone that’s motivated by that.
It’s kind of scary in a sense because you tell him what to do and it’s kind of like you’re a Playstation coach — you’re pressing the go-faster button, but he’s actually going faster. It’s great from our point of view.
But it’s a holistic approach. We’re trying to work on a few other things. It’s not that he is bad particularly in an area and that ‘he really needs to work on this’. He does a lot of mountain biking, he’s excellent at his bike handling skills — it’s really just that bit of transition from really looking after yourself and being able to think on the fly and communicate that under pressure to your teammates with what you need to see as a solution.
But that’s something that every rider can work on — their communication and their thought process under pressure.
We often see the Bennelong-SwissWellness setup “poach” the best Australian domestic riders after they show great promise at other teams. Are you worried that will happen with Alex?
For us making the change from a National Road Series team to a Continental-level team, the biggest helper I’ve had to do that was [ed. Bennelong co-owner] Andrew Christie-Johnston. He answered countless questions, he was on the email all the time to me — he helped facilitate and share his knowledge to enable our team to almost have this opportunity in a way.
What’s best for Alex I think is actually exposure to a higher level of racing. Bennelong do an excellent program, I think, over in Europe, but ultimately they’re a Continental team as well and we’re a Continental team. In a sense we have ambition to be the best team in Oceania. We’re gunning for them in that regard. They are competitors — we’re here to win bike races, we’re not here to give them a foot-up.
It’s definitely not about what’s right for our team vs what’s right for their team, but we don’t want to be helping someone we’re racing against. We’d much rather see Alex go on and race overseas rather than go to Bennelong but I also kind of don’t feel like that would be the right move for him.
He’s already had numerous WorldTour teams speak to me about him anyway. I would suggest that he is enjoying his time here and if he didn’t get a higher ride he would most likely continue his development here. And our program is growing.
Evans finished second on the Sun Tour’s queen stage, between two WorldTour riders.
What are the team’s goals from here? Are you hoping to step up to Pro Continental level at some point?
I think every team is, ha? When anyone talks about Australian racing, the first thing they come back to is Tour Down Under. And how could you not, as an Australian team, want to be part of Australia’s biggest race?
The ambition isn’t necessarily what some people would consider a traditional Pro Continental team to be. If there was ever an opportunity to get to that level, it would predominantly, in my eyes, be about the Australian WorldTour races like the Tour Down Under. And also obviously, being a Pro Continental team, you then have access to other higher level … or easy entry to some HC races. We really love being in North America. Being able to even have opportunities to try and get into Tour of California or Tour of Utah … but this is all ambition.
It’s one thing to say what your goal is out loud but those sorts of budgets take time. We’ve only been a Continental team for four months! It’s definitely driven by my own ambition but I need to keep the reality check there and we would at least need another Continental season because I can see already to get to a Pro Continental level, when you look at the requirements, it’s a lot. It’s a lot of growth and if you do things like that you’re just not going to last.
I want to race the Tour Down Under. It’s personal ambition — I just want to be a part of the biggest race. Hopefully one day in the next five years that’s something that can be a reality. You’ve still got to be successful in your day-to-day and keep your sponsors happy along the way.
After this racing block in the US, what next? The NRS starts in a few months but is there other overseas racing you’re keen to do?
We’re looking to balance the NRS with a few more Continental invites. We’re working really hard to try and get into some races in the USA. We’re looking to … even if it’s just sort of relationship-building things in Europe, get people used to riding over there and understanding what the culture’s like and how the races unfold just so we can kind of break down the components like we’ve done this year for our USA block, for next year.
We spoke to the guys at the start of the season and said ‘What do you actually want to achieve with this Conti licence?’ and the riders actually want to have a blend between those hard one-day races and they want the tours. But we’re not going to go to Europe and break a whole bunch of young kids in horrible weather. That not quite where we’re at. I think we’d still like a little bit of Girona and a little bit of sunny Spain thrown in there just to keep people happy.
We’ve got some young U21 guys that will focus on NRS. Because the NRS doesn’t start till later we picked a younger bunch of almost development riders to race that. So I’m not actually sure how much we’ll see of these Conti guys in the NRS for us this year. We’ll just have to check in with how their calendar’s going. I don’t want to overdo them really.