NEW ORLEANS (VN) — The 2014 racing calendar is one that former under-23 standout Gavin Mannion would like to continue to put behind him. After wrapping up 2013 with two second-place youth classifications — at the Amgen Tour of California and the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah — and a fifth place showing at the national road race championships neatly sandwiched in between, the young American endured a sluggish start to the following season.
“Yeah, 2014 kind of just started off on the wrong foot,” Mannion told VeloNews two months after signing with Drapac Pro Cycling in October. “I had some injuries in February of that year leading into team camp, as well as some illnesses and crashes in the first couple of races, so it put me on the back foot for the majority of the year.”
After spending four years with the UCI Continental Trek-Livestrong development team, racing for 5-hour Energy during the first half of 2014 before signing on as a trainee for Garmin-Sharp was not the most enjoyable experience for Mannion.
“The team atmosphere on 5-hour Energy was not the most fun I’ve had racing my bike,” said the 24-year-old Boston native who now calls Austin, Texas, home. “So that was also kind of difficult too, but I think I learned a lot from that experience and I’ve taken that forward into my training and just the way I look at bike racing now.
“I was lucky enough to get that stagiaire at the end of the year, but I think it was primarily based on the results I had the year before — my last at U23.”
Following his trainee stint with Garmin, Mannion signed with Jelly Belly-Maxxis for 2015 and found himself returning to early-career form with a third overall at Silver City’s Tour of the Gila, a sixth at the US road nationals, and an eye-catching fourth at the USA Pro Challenge in August with two top 10 individual results, landing fifth and sixth on the first and fourth stages respectively.
“I’m definitely pleased with how 2015 went for me,” said Mannion, who recently underwent successful minor surgery in the off-season to repair a torn meniscus before joining his new teammates this week for pre-season training camp Down Under. “The year before was not my best year and I was looking to bounce back from that a little bit.
“Riding for Jelly Belly this past year was great,” he said. “We had a really good team environment, and just having fun and racing well as a team has led to a lot of good results for me throughout the year – with the highlight being the USA Pro Challenge.”
Mannion becomes the first American to sign with the Australian UCI Pro Continental team, which is based in both Atlanta and Melbourne.
“I think it was a very natural step for Drapac to take on a US rider after spending most of the year racing in the States last year,” said Drapac sports director Tom Southam regarding the addition of Gavin to the team.
“Gavin is obviously a hugely talented guy for [general classification], but what I really like about him is that he wants it, and he is known to all those who know him as a tough kid,” Southam said. “Resilience and strength of character are probably the things that I value most in a rider. You can improve wattages, lose weight and reduce your frontal surface area, but it is a lot harder to change the way your head works.
“You basically have to be a determined mentally disturbed hard case to be a cyclist, but you also have to be socially aware enough to fit in to a team environment and to balance the whole thing out.
“From what I can tell Gavin has a fairly good balance of this, and I look forward to working with him through the year and seeing what we can get out of him.“
As Mannion is rejoining former Trek-Livestrong teammate and two-year BMC Racing rider Timothy Roe at Drapac, he is not a complete stranger to his new surroundings and is eager to step up to the plate as a GC hopeful for a team that loses its biggest podium threat in Dutch sprinter Wouter Wippert to Cannondale-Garmin.
“I am excited to join them,” said Mannion of Drapac. The team also signed 27-year-old Nathan Earle of Australia, who comes to the squad from from Sky, and 35-year-old Dutchman Jens Mouris, who will join Drapac after several years at Orica-GreenEdge.
“I’m clearly getting stronger and more developed as a rider and I’d like to carry that forward to this season by stepping up the number of race days and targeting GC results.”
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.