Moama cyclist Liam Harland is looking ahead in his cycling career, with some big decisions on the horizon for the 19-year-old.By Geordie Cowan
Moama’s Liam Harland is in a quandary: he needs to make a decision.
On one hand, he has the chance to realise his dream and sign a three-year professional contract with US cycling group Team Novo Nordisk, putting the rest of his life on hold.
On the other hand, he can continue his life as a 19-year-old and pursue cycling in Australia — while still maintaining some sense of home.
It is not an easy decision for a young person to make, especially when signing would mean uprooting his entire life into a completely different culture.
‘‘That’s why I’m back in Echuca. I need to re-evaluate what I need to do,’’ he said.
‘‘Whether I want to take it to that next level and be that WorldTour professional cyclist or whether I just want to be really competitive in Australia.
‘‘It is a tough thing to get into, but once you’re in it, there’s no getting out.
‘‘It’s your job, you get paid to do it and you’ve got to be the best at it.’’
The team, formally known as Team Type-1 Sanofi, is comprised 16 diabetic cyclists.
Harland, who has type 1 diabetes, was offered a tryout by the Atlanta-based team and raced with them for 2 months in the US from July to mid-September.
‘‘It was just like I was a professional bike rider,’’ he said.
‘‘You’d get up, you’d train, you’d do 1000km a week and then you’d generally spend Thursday to Sunday racing.
‘‘I was based in Atlanta, Georgia, but you might go up as far as New York, or down to Miami (to compete).’’
Harland made contact with the team when he attended the Tour de Korea as an observer with team Genesys Pro Cycling.
‘‘I met (Joe Eldridge), one of the team creators over there,’’ Harland said.
‘‘Him and Phil Southerland, who is now the team director, both had type 1 diabetes and came together saying they wanted to make an all-diabetic team, just to show how powerful it can be and it doesn’t stop people.
‘‘From there it just kicked off, sent a few emails and they’re like ‘here’s your plane ticket to come to America’.’’
It was through this networking and a desire to take a chance when offered that Harland found an alternative to the usual Institute of Sport route into a professional team.
Harland started riding at Echuca-Moama Cycling Club about seven years ago.
‘‘Riding was a bit of a hobby and it just progressed from there,’’ he said.
‘‘I wanted to be more competitive. I’ve got this thing — you’re either the best at something or you just don’t do it.
‘‘Then you just keep chipping away.’’
Five days after finishing year 12 at St Joseph’s College, Harland moved to South Australia to follow his coach, Tim Decker, who was appointed head cycling coach at the South Australian Institute of Sport.
‘‘He’s my coach and he got the ball rolling,’’ Harland said.
‘‘You start going to bigger races, you start training properly and you get into teams.
‘‘It just progressed from there.
‘‘I had a few guys who started training me and looking at me more and then this opportunity came up to go to America.’’
And what an opportunity it was.
During his short time in the US, Harland was exposed to races with big prize money — the first sprint lap prize of one race was $5000 and the winner took home $20,000.
He also competed in front of huge crowds, with one race in Atlanta attracting 200,000 spectators.
One race included Czech rider Peter Sagan, a multi-stage winner at last year’s Tour de France.
‘‘The first two weeks I was there, I’d felt like I’d dropped the ball,’’ Harland said.
‘‘I wasn’t finishing as high up as I wanted.
‘‘But after two weeks I was flying.
‘‘I started sneaking into top-20s, then top-10s and then on the podium.
‘‘And these are big races with full-time professionals who have raced at the Tour de France and whatnot.
‘‘It was good to know I could compete against them.’’
Harland, who was typically a lead-out rider for the team’s sprinters, found he was adapting well to the races in the US which were mainly on small circuits or city streets.
This tended to produce continuous fast racing, which plays to Harland’s strengths, with one race in New York holding an average speed of 47km/h for the four-hour event.
‘‘What I was doing well in was time trialling,’’ he said.
‘‘That’s where I was getting a lot of good results.’’
Although the prospect of a three-year contract deal seems like reality catching up with the dream, there are many pitfalls in the life of a professional cyclist and Harland will ponder these during the break.
Living out of a suitcase far from home, racing against some of the best riders in the world, keeping form, recovering from the inevitable injuries and travel, travel, travel.
At 19 this can all seem both exciting and formidable.
If he takes up the contract, he will race mainly in the US with trips to Europe and Asia for bigger races.
These may include the Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia, the Tour de Suisse and the Tour of Britain, as well as second-tier one-day classics such as Paris-Tours.
Harland said he had not expected to progress as far as he had and be offered a contract at the full professional level.
‘‘It’s a lot to weigh up,’’ he said.
‘‘There are a lot of expenses, because you’re expected to own your own house, to buy a car.
‘‘There’s 106 flights they have to make during the year to go to races.
‘‘You go to Asia, all around Europe and then you get two weeks off a year to come back home.
‘‘It’s a big commitment to make.’’
Harland knows he can still make it as a professional cyclist if he does not accept the offer.
‘‘But you want to be 20 or 21 when you make the decision,’’ he said.
‘‘Anywhere past there and you start to find it hard to break through, because you’re getting too old to be competitive.’’
He has also been given a bit of leeway by Team Novo Nordisk, which has told him to remain in contact and stay fit.
Harland will take a bit of a break from cycling for the next two to three months before he makes his decision.
‘‘If I’m going okay, this is it and it’s all out,’’ he said.
‘‘That’s all I’m going to do, just bike ride.
‘‘If not, then it will be bike riding while working, just picking away little goals in the short term.’’
Should he decide to join the team, Harland knows what he is striving for.
‘‘This team has a goal to do the Tour de France in five years,’’ he said.
‘‘That would be the number one goal if I follow cycling.’’
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