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Jake Keough hopes for bigger Euro presence in 2012

Jake Keough says UnitedHealthcare hopes to "make more of a push to Europe" in 2012, along with tackling the top-shelf domestic races.

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2011 Nature Valley Grand Prix, Jake Keough
Jake Keough earlier this year at the Nature Valley Grand Prix. Photo: Casey B. Gibson (file)

ARTHURS SEAT, Australia (VN) — A second-year pro with half a dozen solid wins under his belt this season in the States, Jacob “Jake” Keough has a lot to look forward to.

No doubt, the 24-year-old owes his leg speed to his background as a BMX bandit, in a similar vein to that of Robbie McEwen, before transitioning to the road and the team he now finds himself riding for, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling.

It is hard to say if Keough will indeed follow in McEwen’s footsteps as a triple green jersey winner at the Tour de France. The worst thing to say to an up-and-coming sprinter is that he can’t do it – because Murphy’s Law dictates that he most likely will.

VeloNews caught up with the Massachusetts native and local in the coastal town of Geelong, before the start of the third stage of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. Two years ago, the town played host to the UCI road world championships, won by another sprinter Keough would kill to emulate, Thor Hushovd.

VeloNews: You’ve had at least half a dozen good wins this year in the States. What’s been your finest moment so far?

Jake Keough: I think the month of May leading into Philly week, I had some really good success in the criteriums and circuit races in the U.S. The U.S. Air Force and Clarendon Cup was a nice weekend for us; Saturday, Hilton Clarke won on the old CSC (Invitational) course, and Sunday, we went one-two-three for the second year in a row and I won at U.S. Air Force. That was a really good weekend.

VN: UnitedHealthcare, they really seem to be the team to beat in the States this year, unless some of the ProTeams show up at the Tour of California, for example. …

JK: I think this year was a real big step forward for the team. We did a real good block in Europe, and we’re trying to do more international stuff, like here at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, and we’re happy to be here and happy to try and making that step into harder racing. I think when we go back to the States, we can kind of showcase what we’ve done and keep moving forward.

VN: How did you start racing, and when did you believe you could turn your hobby into a profession?

JK: I started racing BMX when I was about 7 years old; just building dirt jumps and riding my BMX around. I started cyclocross in my last year as a junior, as an 18-year-old, and then went onto the road and realized I had a real passion for it, and a good skill-set for it.

From the sprints and criteriums, it kind of built from there. … I think from a pretty young age, I kind of knew I wanted to race a bike as a professional. But to (actually) get to do it, it’s awesome.

VN: Will you continue to ride for UnitedHealthcare in 2012?

JK: Yep, yep – I’m all signed up; the (2012) season looks good. We have a new (sports) director in (ex-Lotto DS) Hendrik Redant and I think it will be a nice, new step into Belgium, more European stuff, and we’ll try and get some big wins.

VN: How does the level at the Herald Sun Tour compare with the races you’ve done in the U.S. and the few races you’ve done in Europe this season?

JK: The level is definitely as high as some of the European races we’ve done. It was kind of funny, though … the first two days we were here and the first stage (it) was raining – we were wondering why they called it the Sun Tour! But now the sun’s out and we’re happy to be here… it’s a good level.

VN: Being a second-year domestic pro, you must harbor some European ambitions of a larger nature, sometime in the near future. …

JK: Yeah, certainly. Like I said, next year we’re going to make more of a push to Europe – this year, we did a few blocks to get our feet wet – and I think moving forward, trying to get some wins with our sprint squad is going to be a real priority. Along with the big stuff in the U.S. – California, Colorado, Utah, Elk Grove … the good UCI races there.

VN: Is your team a starter in all of those?

JK: I don’t know if the invitation’s been sent out but that’s certainly the plan – we did them all this year and had some pretty good successes. Hopefully we can continue that trend into 2012.