• Jack Bobridge leads countryman Rohan Dennis during stage three of the 2015 USA Pro Challenge from Copper Mountain to Aspen. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The road to gold Rio runs through Utah, Colorado and potentially California. That's the plan for Jack Bobridge and the Budget Forklifts team, anyway...
Mary Topping

25 Aug 2015 - 9:41 AM  UPDATED 25 Aug 2015 - 9:44 AM

Jack Bobridge and Team Budget Forklifts manager and sports director Cameron Watt had hoped for better than ninth place at the USA Pro Challenge time trial in Breckenridge, Colorado last week.

However, the disappointment was probably tolerable as the US race is just one step in a larger journey: the preparation for an Australian gold medal in the team pursuit at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Chasing elusive gold

Budget Forklifts traveled to North America last year in search of more high-level competition, thanks to Oceania’s thin UCI schedule for continental teams and few  invites to the large Asian events.

‘We can complain and whinge that we can’t get the starts, or we can look elsewhere and go a different path,’ Watt said. ‘This is the one we’re going to take.”

This season the team added the Utah and Colorado UCI tours to its calendar. It also took on five prior world track champions - Jack Bobridge, Luke Davison, Glenn O'Shea, Scott Sunderland and Mitchell Mulhern - in an alliance with Cycling Australia’s High Performance Unit.

The organisations joined forces with the aim of netting Olympic gold in the team pursuit in 2016.  In the past, these athletes were dispersed across multiple teams and often balanced track with World Tour responsibilities, making it difficult to assemble everyone for track camps. Now men’s track endurance coach Tim Decker calls the shots on schedules to enhance preparation for Rio.

By racing together more often, bonds between the riders strengthen. The road efforts build endurance and strength, which carries over to the 4,000 metre pursuit.This arrangement may be a first for Australia, albeit not the only one in the world. Watt pointed out the formation of Team Wiggins, which houses Great Britain’s team pursuit brain trust, as a similar operation.

Achieving gold ranks high on Budget Forklift’s priority list.

‘Even though it’s not Budget Forklifts at the Olympics,’ Watt noted, ‘this is a cool, unique goal. That’s our pinnacle for the next two years. We’re basically providing an environment that supports those five guys – a team around them they’ll be happy with, and a race program they and the national track coach are happy with,” said Watt.

The novel enterprise is perfect from Bobridge’s point of view.

‘I love racing with Budget Forklifts…So far I take my hat off to them for the whole season,’ said Bobridge. ‘They’ve given us the race structure and everything possible to be the best on the track and I’m sure they will continue to do that.'

Bobridge competed in Utah as well as Colorado. although he retired from the latter race with a stomach bug. Glenn O'Shea also raced the Tour of Utah.

Land of opportunity

The Olympics isn’t the only goal in Watt’s sights: he also seeks a Tour of California start for the team.

“The Tour of California is probably the biggest race in America,” said Watt. ‘For an Australian, getting to  do the Tour of California would be the ultimate race start – other than going to Europe, which we have no interest in.”

Watt said trekking to North America just makes economic sense. ‘Not to bag Australian races out,” Watt said, “but it’s almost cheaper for us to race over here then do the NRS.’

 While teams pay their way for NRS events, the UCI-categorised tours provide lodging, cars and meals. Canadian sponsor Cervélo also draws the team the North America, and next year’s will equipment sponsors include a few with roots in Canada and/or the US. Current riders’ familiarity with the terrain based on years of North American racing experience makes the continent attractive.

Even so, tours in China, Japan and perhaps three NRS events will occupy the team for the remainder of this season. Bobridge is scheduled to participate in Australian races, but the gold medal is his focus. His renewed focus on four-minute effort follows an unsuccessful attempt to break the Hour Record in February, which saw him fall agonisingly short.

 ‘It’s probably going to be my last run at the team pursuit at the Olympics,’ Bobridge noted. ‘But I said that after London too, so it could change.

‘Considering I’ve won the worlds in individual and team pursuit, I guess that last thing for myself we have to do is take that world record officially in the team pursuit and win an Olympic gold medal,’ he added. ‘I think to do that you have to stay racing on the road as well.’