World Tour riders – where do they come from?
Many have come up through the US ‘development’ team run by Axel Merckx; originally sponsored by Trek then Bontrager and last year Bissell, this year he’s created the ‘Axeon’ brand which will remain irrespective of sponsor changes – with Cipollini and SRAM among the 2015 names on the jersey.
Taylor Phinney (BMC), Lawson Craddock (Giant-Alpecin), Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin), Ian Boswell (Team Sky), Alex Dowsett (Movistar), Ben King (Cannondale-Garmin) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek Factory Racing) have all been helped on their way by Merckx.
On his books for 2015 is Kiwi, James Oram who we first spotted when he won the 2011 Tour de l’Abitibi in Canada – the ‘Junior Tour de France’ with Bobby Julich, Tyler Farrar and Taylor Phinney all on the roll of honour.
Later that year Oram took silver in the Junior Worlds TT and for the last three seasons has been with Merckx.
Last season he cracked the top ten in the Tour of Alberta and World U23 TT Championships.
He’s kicked off 2015 in fine style with a win in the New Zealand U23 TT Championship and followed that up with a stage win in the UCI 2.2 New Zealand Cycle Classic as well as a second place, a fifth place and a top ten on GC too.
We had a word with James soon after his TT win.
Congratulations James; tell us about your preparation for the NZ TT please.
“My coach Tim Gudsell (ex F des J pro, ed.) of Ventouro has me riding my TT bike twice a week, anywhere from one to three hours, so it’s not a foreign position for my body.
“We’d planned a couple of mock 40K TTs to get the body adjusted to riding past that 30-40 minute pain barrier.
“However roughly ten days before the Nationals, during my first mock test, I hit a pothole at speed and took a large tumble.
“It wasn’t until the Tuesday before the Nationals I could ride properly.
“Putting it simply, my preparation was purely recovering from the crash, and looking back on it now, that freshness may have been the key to my win ?”
Were you on the new Cipollini TT bike?
“I was still on my Bissell Team Bike of 2014, as shipping kit and bikes all around the world is a costly business!
“The Cipollini Nuke is one flash rig; I won’t be slowing down at all once I’m on it.”
11th in the NZ Elite Road Race Champs, were you content with that – is there no U23 Championships?
“The U23 Riders start with the Elite; however we can’t win the overall, only the U23 title.
“I was fourth in the U23 race, a result that was just as annoying as the race.
“We end up affecting the elite race, as they do ours, bit of a mess really.”
Your fourth season with Axel; under the ‘Axeon’ banner this year, any big changes other than the team name?
“Other than obvious sponsor and name changes, I feel like Axel has picked the ‘cream of the crop’ in regards to staff, and racing for the 2015 season.
“It will all be new to most of the riders on the team, but it’s really nice having the confidence of knowing what to expect.”
What does your programme look like?
“At the moment I’m missing the first training camp in the States, but I’ll head over in early March for the main camp.
“I’ve got a couple of races in NZ before I fly out.
“Once overseas, it’ll be spring in Europe then back to the states for the Tour of California.
“We’ll see from there, maybe another stint in Europe, but definitely Colorado, Alberta and Worlds.”
You were second in the early season US Redlands stage race in 2014 – is that a priority?
“We’ll be over in Europe racing whilst Redlands is on.”
Your rode Utah and Colorado in 2014, how does your system cope with altitude?
“Each time I go back to altitude it’s that little bit easier, whether it’s mental or physical, I’m not sure.
“I feel quite comfortable at altitude now, and look forward to strong performance in both.”
You were top 10 in the Tour of Alberta, the two US races must have been good for you?
“I had good legs going in to Utah, but didn’t handle the load of the week very well, by the second to last stage I was on the back foot.
“I stayed run down through Colorado with a chest cold.
“By the time I got to Alberta, my body had finally recovered, and I had my legs of old back!
“It was nice to finally get a result, and show some form.
“Especially whilst helping my German team mate Ruben Zepunkte out – he finished third on GC with me 10th.”
What’s your ideal kind of race?
“I’d never shy away from a stage race, especially one with a TT.
“I’m looking forward to U23 Liege more than ever this year, it has special place in my heart!”
Are you happy with progress in 2014?
“I was content with my 2014 season; it was quite like riding a wave, plenty of highs and lows !
“Fortunately it ended on a high.”
Which ride are you most pleased with in 2014?
“The Tour of Alberta really made the season for me, as it was a real team success, not just personal.
“I’d relive it in a heartbeat!”
You cracked the Worlds U23 TT top 10 up from 26th – high hopes for Richmond?
“If I can continue to progress this season, the way I have been, then I shouldn’t be doubtful of a podium.
“I’ve been working closely with Cycling NZ and plan to do some mid-season recon of the course; they’ve been very supportive of my ambitions.”
Were the Worlds your last race of 2014 – how much of a winter break do you take?
“Yes, I finished my season in Ponferrada.
“Once home I had a full month off, I wouldn’t call it winter though – no snow down under!”
The Worlds TTT in Richmond must be on the Axeon ‘wish list’?
“I’m sure it’d be a nice way to finish the season.
“We’ll see how the season pans out, as I feel it would be more of a spectacle than a goal of the teams.”
2015 will be a success if…
“I really want to crack the World Tour, I’ve said it for the past two years, and I really believe it’s possible.
“As long as I’m enjoying racing my bike and progressing as a rider, I’ll call it a successful year.”