Nathan Earle has declared signing with the Israel Cycling Academy as a greater achievement than his neo-pro tenure with Sky where he wrestled with the politics of riding for Bradley Wiggins.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
16 Nov 2017 - 10:30 AM 

The two-year deal with the Pro Continental outfit, expected to earn a wildcard to the 2018 Giro d’Italia, follows a series of challenges that forced Earle to consider retirement, and swallow pride.

Earle has so far marked a career akin to a snakes and ladders game.

The NRS product joined the WorldTour with Sky (2014-2015), which made him disillusioned during a single season stint with Professional Continental outfit Drapac (2016) where he was squeezed out in a merger. This year he consequently raced for Japan-based Continental squad Ukyo, competing mainly across Asia.

“I had some guys around me saying that they would refuse to ride Continental level because they were better than that,” Earle said.

“Do you go back to Continental level, not have much money, prove yourself again and try and move back up, or do you just retire because you refuse to ride at Continental level? That was the decision I had to make. In my head, I thought, I’m better than that, but I’m not in everyone else’s eyes because there’s not a job there for me, for whatever reason that may be.

“It worked out, I’m back at a Pro Continental level and we’re doing some of the biggest races in the world.

“To be given a second chance through my own doing, my own hard work, is the most satisfying feeling ever.”

Earle travelled to Israel on Sunday for team meetings and is set to establish himself in Girona, Spain, which the Academy will primarily work out of next year.

The 29-year-old has perceivably fallen down the ladder enough to know the pitfalls of the game, which can’t guarantee job security for a majority.

“Often hard work does go unpaid,” said Earle.

Following a baptism of fire at Sky, he is also now accustomed to the lesser known politics of the elite peloton, which has a clearly defined hierarchy and a mishmash of written and unwritten rules.

“You have these neo-pros coming in from under-23 ranks, some of them are God’s gift to cycling and they’re fine. But some of them aren’t, they have a tough two years and you don’t know what the team expects of you,” Earle said.

“When I was at Team Sky it was like, I’m doing the job they want me to do and they’re telling me that’s good but then I’m not winning anything. Then sometimes you’re in a position where you could go try and win, but you’re like, if I try and win maybe they’re going to call me a selfish pr--k for riding for myself, so I better not try and win and just help Wiggins say.

“That happened to me one time at Ride London in 2014,” Earle continued.

“Wiggins and I were in the front group of 30 guys [behind an escape] and I was like, s--t, I could go for the sprint here and try for a top 10.

“[But] Wiggins was there and I was like, hang on, he’s a hitter and he’s probably going to tell [team principal David] Brailsford that I’m a dog and looked after myself in the finish. So, I fell back and helped him and he said, ‘I don’t want to sprint.’” By then we were out the back and I just rolled in 22nd.

“It’s a little bit hard to know because you’re such a small fish in a big pond. If you try and do your own thing people call you selfish, and if you don’t do your own thing people say you don’t have results and they don’t re-sign you. It’s a real tough one to get right if you’re a strong cyclist but you have to work for your results and your results are few and far between."

“I don’t blame him [Wiggins], but at the same time just before that I helped him win Tour of California by riding on the front every day until I just wanted to cry,” Earle added. “It would have been nice of him to show initiative, come up to me and say, ‘hey mate, I don’t give a s--t about this race so don’t worry about me, just do what you want to do.’ But being that new kid with Wiggins, I just couldn’t do it and at the end, I realised he doesn’t care anyway.

“It’s all a learning experience. To have that experience at Sky, I don’t regret it at all, I think I’m going to be better for it and it’s going to now be a completely different circumstance and scenario.”

Now climbing back up the ladder, a fortified Earle, inherently confident in his physical ability, is forward focused to ticking off career goals including a start in a Grand Tour.

“I didn’t feel out of my depth when I went to the WorldTour and that’s one thing I still take away as positive now. I’ve got that memory of never feeling completely overwhelmed being in those races. It’s probably more I wasn’t ready for Team Sky,” Earle said.

“I think it was just a bit above and beyond me. I was an aggressive, punchy hilltop finish rider and I felt like I never did any of that, I worked more as a diesel, didn’t really play to my strengths, which got me there in the first place.

“Coming full circle is what is going to be so exciting about this next couple of years and working together with the Israel Cycling Academy,” he continued. “It’s a smaller team that has huge ambition, so I should get more of an opportunity and feel a lot more comfortable amongst the other guys on that team, feel part of the family and not one of the bottom people.”