“Everyone is looking to the big names. We are going to try to take a stage away from them as the underdog,” says 24-year-old Wippert who counts three wins this season.
The Dutchman, whose team-mates call him “Wippy” and speaks English with an Aussie accent, trained out of Encinitas in southern California earlier this year.
While the Tour Down Under was an important target for the Australian team, sports director Tom Southam says, “California is also tremendously important to the team and our sponsors, so we will be treating it as the biggest thing we’ll do this year.
“We really want to show ourselves on the world stage as a highly professional Pro-Continental team.”
Southam cites exposure as the team’s main goal for its first invite to the prestigious tour.
“We want to represent the Drapac Group in the best possible way. We’ve obviously got Wouter who I think can develop into a top-line World Tour sprinter. We also want to be well-represented all the way through.”
Riders will engage in activities such as hospital and school visits in support of the team’s community objectives.
The team tackled last week’s five-day UCI 2.2 Tour of the Gila in southern New Mexico to prepare for California. Goals encompassed a stage win for Wippert and top three on general classification for Lachlan Norris at the squad’s first 2015 American event.
Norris finished eleventh overall. Southam thinks he suffered somewhat from the high desert altitude. “I think we’ll see a lot more of Lachie in California,” he adds.
Wippert missed first by inches at the criterium against American continental team sprinters expected to appear in California. Disappointment still plagues him two days after he forced a wee smile on the podium.
In the last corner he sacrificed position by tapping the brakes when he feared rival riders diving inside of him would crash. Based on passing five guys to get second, he believes he would have won. He also regrets letting the team down.
“To win as a sprinter you can’t brake in the last kilometre,” says Wippert. “I’m not a really good loser, especially when it’s not necessary. When I race in California and it’s a head-to-head sprint and the others are just faster, then I will be at peace afterwards.”
Still, his result brought Drapac its second medal on American soil. Jordan Kerby, the 2014 under 23 Australian time trial champion, delivered the first one with third in a hilly race against the clock and carried an eighteen second advantage over the winner and former American time trial king, Tom Zirbel (Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies).
Happy to achieve a team milestone, Kerby says, “It gives us good momentum and motivation. We didn’t get a win at the Gila, so it keeps us hungry to try to get a win in California.”
Southam took away a balanced view post-Gila.
“All things considered we’re pretty much in the right place. Everyone’s worked really hard this week.”
Moreover, integrating new American staff prior to California was a considerable benefit.
Looking ahead, Kerby is targeting California’s individual time trial on 15 May in addition to supporting Wippert.
“It’s on day six so I might be a little bit tired by then, but I’d like to have a good go to see where I stand with the top-level pro riders,” Kerby says. “It’s pretty flat and I prefer that.”
From his perspective, Wippert’s ability to snag more wins hinges on a better lead-out train. To step up its game the team practiced lead-outs over the winter and added sprint specialist Graeme Brown.
With Brown, Wippert has a veteran who can drop him off at the right place amid a charging California field including eight WorldTour squads, as well as devise schemes for outfoxing the favourites.
“It’s going to be hard to win, but we believe we can compete with them, especially with Brownie. On technique he is like a genius,” says the Dutch rider.
“I’m still new to races at this level. Having Brownie’s ten years of WorldTour experience gives me so much rest in the race. He organises my other team-mates and the only thing I have to do is follow his wheel.”
Wippy fancies his chances on stages one, two and eight at the California tour. He sees potential in stages four and five, however, “it’s not going to be easy to get a bunch sprint because the courses are pretty hard.”
That might swing the outcome in his favor. He prefers hard races. If he had to pick one to define his career, it would be Milan-San Remo.
Drapac for the Amgen Tour of California: Graeme Brown (AUS), Will Clarke (AUS), Jordan Kerby (AUS), Lachlan Norris (AUS), Darren Lapthorne (AUS), Travis Meyer (AUS), Martin Kohler (SUI), and Wouter Wippert (NED).