As the WorldTour petered into its final week in Beijing, Matt Goss, was already nearly a month into his pre-season training as he looks to put a troubled two years behind him.
I can remember a conversation I had with an experienced Australian rider in late 2011 - I was saying to him, if I can just do this, if I can just do that a little bit better I'll be able to get so much more out of myself. And I'll never forget what he told me, he said, 'don't change anything', and I laughed, and I ignored him.
With the UCI Road World Championships unsuited to him, and fatigue overwhelming his body, it was in Canada, in mid-September that Goss stepped off the bike for the final time in 2013. The Australian is now in a slow but disciplined buildup for 2014, starting with, as Cycling Central caught up with him, weights sessions in his Monaco base.
It's a little over six months to the day since a far more buoyant Goss spoke to us about his hopes for 2013 after a quiet, but solid start to the year. After breaking though at Tirreno-Adriatico to open his year account, beating Sagan and Cavendish in a sketchy, weather-affected bunch dash in Indicatore, Goss was in prime condition for another shot at La Primavera, Milan-San Remo.
What could, what should perhaps, have been a day where Goss answered his critics with a flurry of smooth pedal strokes and record a high finish in the year's first objective however were scuppered before he'd even had time to think about his tactics for the finale.
Instead, Goss was a victim of a crash early in the race, and as the snow, and record low temperatures set in, his knee seized and he could no longer go on. Gerald Ciolek meanwhile led home a tortured front group after some five and half hours of racing to take a massive win for MTN-Qhubeka. Goss is still sure he could've been there challenging had the race dealt him different cards.
Nothing is more frustrating for a rider than seeing form drift away into nothingness after months of preparation. But that's just what happened to Goss after San Remo. His injury and then the Spring illnesses that swept the peloton held him back, and forced him to play catchup in the months following March. By July, and the Tour, Goss had raced close to 70 days in a string of events leading to the Grande Boucle's depart in Corsica. Romandie, the Giro d'Italia and Suisse. All brutally hard, and all doing little for his confidence nor his speed. Compounding his fatigue was the unseasonably chilly weather that hung around like a bad smell deep into June.
The chase to "catch up" left Goss floundering at the Tour. He was tired. He was strong, sure, but he wasn't as sharp as he has been and he as he needed to be. He failed to finish in the top-10 once over the 21 stages, and since that Tirreno win back in March, has not won a single individual stage nor event.
"I'm definitely stronger than what I was in 2011, but I need to regain the confidence in what I'm doing is in fact the right thing, that I am the rider that I've shown I can be," Goss told Cycling Central.
Back to Basics
What that is exactly most surely harks back to his lead in to the 2011 season, a year that now stands out starkly in the context of the years it's been sandwiched between.
"It's funny you know, I can remember a conversation I had with an experienced Australian rider late that year (2011)," Goss said. "I was saying to him, if I can just do this, if I can just do that a little bit better I'll be able to get so much more out of myself. And I'll never forget what he told me, he said, 'don't change anything', and I laughed, and I ignored him.
"But it's advice I probably should have stuck by. It's something I've been thinking about quite a bit since."
"I think I've made a few mistakes in training. Harder and harder and harder, to be better than I was in 2011, but it's actually been counter-productive. I'm going into races more tired, a little bit buggered to be honest, and then that feeds itself.
"It makes you wonder. You ask yourself why is this happening, I'm training more and I'm not getting anything out of it."
Next year that's all set to change. Goss will return to a program that's worked for him in the past, with only one Grand Tour on his schedule, the Giro the likely omission. Training is also going to return to sharper efforts, as he re-finds his speed, and by January, the Australian hopes he'll be back in a position to be challenging at the front end of races.
"We're going to change the race program a little bit. I've done the Giro and the Tour the last two years and I've never done that before and to be honest it hasn't worked for me.
"You go a bit too hard doing the Giro and then pay for it at the Tour. It's only five, six weeks between the two and you notice with a lot of bike riders, not just sprinters it's hard to back up. So we'll probably change the program and we'll return to what we know works."
The changing world of sprinting
The hallmark of the last few years has been the shift in the sprint paradigm. Teams have made the final five kilometres of a bike race a science, and with a glut of top-level fast men in the peloton, winning bike races has become hard graft for those lacking the organisation of an Argos-Shimano or Lotto-Belisol, or the nous of a Mark Cavendish or Peter Sagan.
Goss has been caught in this shift and has struggled to keep up. His support at this year's Tour for example, fatigue aside, was limited to two riders, and that's unlikely to change next year as the team has opted for a more versatile recruitment strategy. The makeshift partnership Goss has built with the likes of Leigh Howard, Brett Lancaster and - importantly - Darryl Impey - has been utilitarian but body for body it simply does not rival the best trains in the world.
Does that mean Goss's continued focus on Grand Tour stage wins is folly or is there redemption down the road for the 26 year old?
"I definitely like to hope so," counters Goss. "That's why you go out training for everyday. I definitely think I can go into a Grand Tour and perform. I still think there's definitely a big possibility of winning stages at the Tour de France. It's never going to be easy. The Tour is the Tour. Everyone is specialised, on form. But given the right circumstances and if everything goes the way it did a couple of years ago - the way I think it will all go again next year, I don't see why I can't win a stage or a few.
"I'm not as fast as Cavendish or Kittel, I've never said I'm as fast as they are, but I think I can get results here and there. It gets more and more difficult when there are so many guys who can be up there. So where the bunch is under a 100 riders, and where there's a smaller group that's where I've got to put more focus."
There's mounting pressure on Goss to deliver again from external sources and there's also a budding fast man by the name of Michael Matthews who'd love to take Goss's mantle at Orica-GreenEDGE as sprint top-dog. But, ultimately Goss is his own harshest critic.
"After 2011 I expected a lot, and a I still kind of do," said Goss. "There's expectation that creates pressure. But the most pressure always comes from yourself. I'm 27 in a few weeks time, but it's also my seventh year pro. I'll be doing my eighth year next season. I've got quite a bit of experience now. It's about now putting that all to use."