Until July, Jack Bauer was known mostly for sharing a name with a popular television series character but after coming within metres of a famous stage victory at the Tour de France, the New Zealander announced himself in his own right.
By
AFP

7 Apr 2015 - 5:20 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:34 PM

But rather than being remembered as the guy who came so agonisingly close to a heroic stage victory only to miss out by a handful of metres after 222km riding out in front, Bauer still has dreams of being a major winner.

This season has been one of near-misses for the 29-year-old, finishing second at his national road race championships in January and then also taking a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in August.

Yet Bauer, who only decided to try to crack the cycling professional circuit five years ago, still believes he will have his chance to win something big, and he's banking on it to turn himself into a household name back home.

But ahead of Sunday's road UCI Road World Championships race in Ponferrada, Spain, he admitted he almost never gave himself the chance to dream.

"Eventually I hit a point where I decided that I'm at a stage in my life were either I'm going to be too old to ever ride a bike (professionally) because I just sat at home in New Zealand and didn't want to take any risks, didn't want to give up my job and didn't know how to go about it," he told AFP in an exclusive interview.

"It got to the point where I thought I'm getting on in years now, I've just got to shut everything down at home and move overseas to see what it's all about and just try racing against others.

"Race on a full-time level and see how I stack up, and the only place I'd heard of that you could do that on an amateur level was Belgium, so I just did that in the middle of 2009, I upped and left work and left New Zealand."

Having earned a degree in physical education and started a job as a personal trainer, the former mountain bike enthusiast one day decided to try his luck in Europe on the professional scene.

He was quickly snapped up by Scottish team Endura in 2010 before World Tour team Garmin-Sharp came calling in 2012.

Now that he's part of the biggest peloton in the world, Bauer says he wants to make the most of this opportunity and not one day return to New Zealand as simply an ex-professional cyclist.

"Winning a stage of the Tour de France is a big goal of mine because as a sports person in New Zealand, you either play rugby or cricket and thereby you have a household name," he said.

"You can do something with your career afterwards. What I've come to realise on the bike is that you put your whole life into it, you live overseas, but to the general public back home you're part of a race overseas, like the Tour, but what are you actually doing?

"You're just fetching drink bottles, helping out another rider, and while that's OK, you might do that for 10 years, for your whole career and retire at 35 and go back to New Zealand and there's nothing you can do with it.

Best scenario

"Yes, you were a professional cyclist but what did you ever do? You started a few races.

"The best scenario as a Kiwi cyclist is to win an Olympic medal or win a stage of the Tour because that puts you on a standing that the public back home can associate with.

"It's really the only race people talk about back home, for obvious reasons.

"For business purposes, for marketing purposes, I think it would be great (to win a Tour stage)."

And the first step on that path is to try to cause a stir at the worlds where, as New Zealand's team leader, he could be one of the dark horses in Ponferrada.

"It's my first chance to ride for myself at a worlds. Apart from Copenhagen in 2011, this course is the most suitable for me since I did my first worlds in 2010 in Geelong (Australia)," he added.

"How it stacks up for me really is an unknown because I haven't had a team riding for me over that kind of distance before, but I'm quietly confident in my preparation and my ability."

The first five days of the UCI Road World Championships will be live-streamed on the Cycling Central website, while the final two days will be broadcast on SBS ONE and streamed online.