As the Giro battles raged from Scandinavia down to the Mediterranean, the next generation of Giro stars went about their business. Take 18 year-old Kiwi, James Oram – in 2011 he won the ‘junior Tour de France,’ the Tour de l’Abitibi in Canada.
The likes of Steve Bauer, Laurent Jalabert, Bobby Julich and Andy Hampsten have all ridden in Abitibi so it’s a good indicator of potential.
Oram then travelled to Copenhagen for the junior Worlds and came away with silver in the time trial. Originally slated to ride for New Zealand’s ambitious PureBlack squad for this season, it was back to the drawing board when the team’s folded – albeit has returned in lower key form.
He found a new home with Bontrager-Livestrong under the guidance of Axel Merckx.
Oram took time to talk to VeloVeritas on the eve of his ride in the Tour of the Gila.
Worlds time trial silver; how far away were you from gold?
“The number of times I’ve heard this question is beyond me, just four seconds, ouch!
“But to be honest you can’t complain with second at the Worlds.”
But then disappointment with PureBlack folding.
“Yeah, my 2012 season seemed sorted, with the plan to be racing our legs off in Spain with PureBlack.
“I was very lucky to find a new team so quickly. It has cut some guys careers way too short and caused others to go down a level.
“It’s awesome to see the team still going strong in Asia, though.”
How did you get the Bontrager ride?
“As soon as PureBlack folded there was no time to hesitate finding a new team.
“I got hold of my agent Robert Nichols and we started firing out my CV to all the contacts we had.
“With another rider quitting around the same time, a spot opened up and I signed with Bontrager. We found the good from the bad.”
Did you race in New Zealand over the Euro winter?
“In typical Southern Hemisphere style there was plenty of racing to sink my teeth into.
“As I didn’t want to be flying at team camp then crack half way through the season I kept it to a minimum with plenty of slow kilometres.
“I couldn’t miss the Nationals and enjoyed racing the NZ cycle classic tour in January. I just love training when I’m home.”
With NZ so strong in team pursuiting, have you considered that route?
“No, not really, I’ve never found track racing to excite me too much.
“When I go training I want to see new things, explore climbs and fresh roads; not go round in circles all day. There are plenty of young guys in NZ coming up who can keep the TP strong.”
What’s the Bontrager programme like?
“The race programme has been amazing so far.
“Most first year riders get hardly any starts but I’ve been lucky enough to already have a few under my belt. And I have a few more in the near future such as the Tour of Gila and U23 Paris Roubaix.
“The staff are amazing, they have great attitudes and are awesome at their jobs.”
Does the team take over coaching you?
“No, the team leaves coaching to our personal coaches.
“A few riders have the same coach, but as we are all on very similar racing schedules our training fits together pretty well.”
Where’s home in the US?
“For the past couple of months since arriving in the US and Europe I haven’t really had a home.
“I stayed at a team mate’s apartment in Austin for a week and I have just stayed in Boulder with a host family for two weeks.
“I will however, be living in Santa Rosa for the rest of the season with a team mate. Nice weather and perfect training country – it should be choice.”
I guess you’ll have some nice kit and hardware?
“We have great equipment, from every piece of clothing to bikes for all purposes. We truly do get spoilt by our sponsors.
“For Gila we will be racing Trek Madones with the brand new SRAM Red groupset!
“I can’t wait to get on it!”
I believe you visited the Trek factory – what was that like?
“It was a very cool experience.
“We put a lot of trust into our bikes when racing and getting to see how the frames are hand built piece by piece and then rigorously tested really reassures us that we are riding the best.”
And you met the Oakley head honcho?
“Steve Blick is a character for sure!
“He’s an extremely nice guy with possibly the coolest job in the world.
“I will always wear Oakley, nothing else comes close.”
And a certain Mr. Armstrong trained with you?
“The big man himself.
“That was very interesting – I had a double take when I first saw him at camp!
“I was a little star-struck at first but Lance is really easy to talk to and loved smashing us out training.
“He definitely put some form in our legs!”
Tell us about your Belgian adventure – a few crashes, I believe?
“I’m not going to lie, as much as I hate crashing, I do enjoy Belgian racing in general.
“I went over for Deinze-Ieper early in the season with no success but was lucky enough to head back over with the NZ national team in April to compete in the U23 classics.
“Crashes marred these races too but the legs were good.
“I finished my second Belgian adventure with Bontrager competing in U23 Liege and Zellik-Galmaarden.”
And you raced up la Redoute, the famous climb in Liege-Bastogne-Liege?
“I’m not sure if ‘raced’ is the right term, but yes I surely got over it!
“I like Philippe Gilbert but his supporters can get carried away with the paint on the road – extremely slippery!
“Plenty of downhill after to chase back on though!”
How much do you see Axel Merckx?
“At every race we get to be with Axel.
“He’s one of those guys that when you are around them, you just know what to do.
“You mean business as soon as you start racing. He doesn’t say a lot but that’s a good thing, he’s wise beyond his years.”
I believe you spent time with his dad?
“Yes, Eddy was there during Liege and Zelik.
“He even picked us up from the Airport for Deinze-Ieper.
“He’s still very busy, but Eddy and his wife Claudine are extremely kind and hospitable, always happy to help.”
And Madame Merckx was feeding you well?
“I think all of the team get excited when it’s time to eat at the Merckx house!
“It’s not often we get a home cooked meal like our mums would make, so yes, fed very well indeed.”
Bontrager are riding California and Utah – there’ll be plenty of competition within the squad?
“There’s always plenty of competition within the squad.
“Some riders are not signed as pro’s so can’t ride, whilst not all riders suit certain races, but the right guys always get the spots.
“For California I’m the reserve rider but hopefully I will be riding well enough to challenge the boys for a spot at Utah!”
Does the squad give you any clues as to the sort of level you have to achieve to get on ‘The Shack.’
“We are lucky this year that we are no longer linked to Radioshack; otherwise we wouldn’t be able to start races like California and Utah.
“It also takes the pressure off the team to provide neo pros for ‘the Shack’ and opens up huge options for riders ready to take the next step.
“We all know the races that get noticed and when to perform, but also hard work for the team is as good as a result in some cases.”
And you have altitude training coming up?
“We have just had two weeks at altitude in Boulder, Colorado.
“It was solid training with plenty of options.
“The Altitude did seem to hugely affect me so hopefully my training will pay off. Plus, it’s always nice riding in thinner air, a lot faster!”
Have you had time to miss New Zealand?
“So far I’ve been busy enough not to miss home.
“Staying with the NZ team in Belgium was almost like going home.
“I’ve been enjoying it too much over here, but I do miss the small things like family dinners and being able to drive down the road to catch up with friends.
“American food is a bit average, too.”