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Brown looks to balance support role, stage-hunting

The 26-year-old American is eager to continue helping his EF Education First-Drapac teammates, but also wants to nab a win for himself.

He’s only 26, but Nate Brown enters 2018 as one of the longest-tenured members of the EF Education First-Drapac squad.

Now starting his fifth year with the team, Brown is settling into his niche as a dependable all-rounder. He has yet to nab a big win at the WorldTour level, but he supported Rigoberto Urán’s runner-up ride at last year’s Tour de France. That marked the fourth grand tour appearance of Brown’s career.

In 2018, the American will look to continue balancing domestique duty with taking a few shots of his own.

“I love being a lieutenant. I love working for my teammates, just the satisfaction. Like when Rigo won [stage 9 of the Tour de France], I was almost more happy he’d won than if I’d done a great ride,” Brown told VeloNews last week. “But at the end of the day, I’m a cyclist. I want to win. I have that urge to win. And I think this year especially, I’ve gotten a lot of confidence from last year. I did the Tour de France, I had two days in the [mountains] jersey, I got a top-10 result, and it gave me the confidence like, look, I can win a stage in a grand tour or a weeklong stage race.”

He may still be in his mid-20s by any definition of the term, but Brown has begun to toe the line between up-and-comer and veteran.

Brown is enjoying the transition and the chance to impart some of his knowledge onto the younger crowd, although he is quick to point out that he’s still got plenty to learn himself.

“Time goes by so fast. Now here I am, 26, five years in the WorldTour, all with this team, and I’m like, ‘Whoa, I’m like the older dude on the team now,'” Brown said.

“Obviously I’m still learning, I’m always learning, but I do feel like I can give some of these young guys, especially younger Americans like Logan [Owen], advice and strategies. I remember when I first came on the team, when I first came to Europe, it was nice to hear from the older guys, like, ‘Hey man, you should do this, do that.’ Now, if I can pass that knowledge onto the next generation, that would be great.”

One thing Brown has had to learn the hard way over the past several months is just how fragile a WorldTour team’s existence can be. The Slipstream franchise faced dissolution last fall when an expected sponsor for 2018 fell through. Fortunately for everyone involved, Education First stepped in to fill the void.

Brown, like many of his teammates, was forced to scramble for possible alternatives when he found out the team may suddenly cease to exist. He described a busy two-week period of contacting “every single director out there” looking for openings, but he also said he was ultimately more relaxed about it than one might expect.

Noting that team manager Jonathan Vaughters was providing email updates on the situation and also keeping his agent in the loop, Brown said he stayed optimistic. He did not pursue other options all that aggressively, although he did have two outside contract possibilities. In the end, it worked out.

“I don’t know, there was something about it that I was just very confident and calm throughout the whole process,” Brown said. “That’s kind of my nature. I want to believe that everything works out and I think it helped me out in the long run.”

The team’s story may have had the happy ending Brown was optimistic about all along, but he acknowledges the valuable lesson it taught him.

“I think it just shows how insecure cycling is. Even though you may have a contract with a team, it’s still not set in stone, it’s not a guarantee that that’s going to happen,” he said. “I took away that you always have to be prepared and be ready for the unknown because at the end of the day, anything can happen and you just need to be ready to react right away.”

With a two-year contract — and the team’s very existence — safely secured, Brown can focus on what’s important in 2018. His biggest target? Pulling off that first WorldTour victory, hopefully in a grand tour stage.

Brown has ridden alongside Urán in the Colombian’s two most recent grand tour bids and said he loved the experience. The two have worked very well together so far, and Brown is very much hoping to back Urán again at the Tour this summer. Still, he’s taking an open-minded approach to the season. Whether his team decides to put him in the Tour squad again or send him to the Giro d’Italia, Brown is planning to put it all on the line.

“I’ve always had the ability of adjusting. I don’t need to know exactly what race I’m doing six weeks out. I’ve never known what grand tour I’m doing,” he said. “Three years ago they told me I was doing the Giro like a week before the Giro. And then two years ago they told me I was doing the Giro two weeks before. Last year at the Tour, I think they told me two and a half weeks.”

Wrapping up a busy offseason that saw him buy a new house, organize a charity ride for the late Chad Young, and put in plenty of hours improving his climbing legs and his core, Brown is eager to get his 2018 season underway. He’s entering the year with more confidence. For Brown, that’s probably the most important prerequisite to pulling off personal goals like a WorldTour stage win or a podium ride at a one-week stage race.

“I think I just have to believe in myself,” he said. “That’s been my biggest weakness, when I don’t believe in myself, but I’m starting to get the confidence in myself and the belief that I can do these things. I can’t wait for the next couple of years to see what can happen.”