• Lachlan Norris talks with Phil Liggett during team presentations for the 2015 USA Pro Challenge (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
A fresh approach to summer racing preparation helped elevate Drapac's Lachlan Norris to his first professional win on the road. Now he hopes it will pay off at the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado.
Mary Topping

17 Aug 2015 - 1:54 PM 

Norris pulled off the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah victory on the same Stage 7 Cadel Evans won last year, and in similar style. He summited the final Empire Pass climb - where stretches of asphalt pitch up to more than 20 per cent - in the lead group. Then he bombed the descent with only BMC Racing's Brent Bookwalter matching his speed.

As the pair entered the finishing straight Norris settled into the focus tunnel; the spectator barrier banging racket never reached his ears. He changed gears. and waited for the moment to go. “I don’t have a long sprint, so I had to make it short and sweet,” the Drapac rider said.

Crossing the line ahead of Bookwalter, Norris pumped a fist skyward. But he didn’t own success immediately, he said, because there’s always the chance a rider off the front could steal the win. He knew he’d done it when the team soigneurs stopped jumping like they were standing on hot coals and ran toward him.

The result came as a relief and an opportunity to acknowledge what made it possible.

“It’s been a long time coming. While it was fantastic for me it was also a great way to say thank you to a lot of people that have helped me along the way. There’s too many to mention.” Team-mates. Coach. Family and friends, including Chris Winn.

New digs at elevation

Winn and Norris met growing up as small town boys in Victoria and raced mountain bikes together. Norris rose to a world-class level in mountain biking and raced on skinny tires until late 2012 when he fully dedicated himself to the road. In 2008 Winn moved to the US and became a high level elite road racer. They stayed in touch.

When Norris considered his options for 2015, choosing between pedaling through a Victoria winter or Colorado summer came easily. He also thought riding at 1700 metres elevation would come in handy for the Utah and Colorado endeavours. So in May Norris set up a second home under Winn’s roof near Golden, Colorado, living in what he described as rather plush basement accommodations. The 28-year-old booked fewer flights back and forth to Australia.

He also left his often solo training practice behind upon entering “Winn’s Institute of Sport,” the name Norris has bestowed on the twosome’s summer scheme.

“It has been a big game changer for me having a training partner in Chris and motor pacing each other with a scooter,” Norris said. “It’s fun living with such close friends in Chris and Kathryn; I’ve been able to get home from a race and have some normality and other aspects in my life.” Those aspects encompass household duties. Winn gave Norris high marks for his coffee-making skills.

The new program’s effects extended beyond a single victory. In Utah this August Norris placed sixth overall and noticed a clear upgrade from his 2014 performance in that tour.

“This year I was getting to the finishes and thinking about trying to win the race, whereas last year I was getting to the finish in the front group but I was really just hanging on,” Norris explained.

“(The win) also changes the way we ride as a team. It gives everyone confidence and me confidence that if they get behind me then I can do it. And likewise for the other guys, it shows it’s possible.”

Pro Challenge prospects

The team gets seven chances to convert that momentum into wins this week in Colorado from Monday, August 17 to Sunday August 23. While Utah builds a reputation on steep climbs, the Colorado tour’s biggest challenge is the consistently high altitude. For example, half of Stage 3 rolls over 3000 metres.

As far as he understood several days before the Pro Challenge, Drapac will likely target stage wins. “We’re going there with a really opportunistic team,” Norris said. “We don’t have a sprinter per se; we have a lot of guys that can do really well in a variety of stages.”

In previous editions the Moonstone “wall” located four kilometres from Stage 4’s finale in Breckenridge has launched a solo winner and created separations among the leaders. Stages 1 and 7 are likely to conclude in a bunch sprint unless a breakaway foils the fast men.

Norris is aiming for a stage win and the general classification. He considers three days important for the GC contest: Stage 2 with an uphill finish at Arapahoe Basin ski resort, Stage 4, and Stage 5’s individual time trial. The 14 kilometre time trial begins slightly downhill and features the same Moonstone climb near the end of the route. Norris time trials well and that elevation should play in his favour.

The week’s outcome is important for another reason: Norris is searching for a ride in 2016.

“Ultimately I’d like to be on the podium,” he said. “I think going from last week, I was pretty close. And all things going well, that’s a real possibility.”

Drapac for the USA Pro Challenge
Lachlan Norris, William Clarke, Dylan Girdlestone, Jordan Kerby, Martin Kohler, Adam Phelan, Timothy Roe, Samuel Spokes