Sutherland signs with Saxo Bank

U.S.-based Australian is headed back to Europe full-time in 2013

After six successful seasons on the U.S. racing circuit, Rory Sutherland is taking his skills back to Europe. Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank announced its signing of the Boulder, Colorado-based Australian on Monday.

Sutherland told VeloNews that his full-time move to Europe was in the works even before he broke out for two major stage wins in August, at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Challenge.

“I think we, myself and my family, had made up our minds that now, at the age of 30, it was time to explore our options and see if we could take the plunge to see what level I could reach in my career,” said Sutherland. “Utah and Colorado were basically the icing on the cake to give me the confidence that under the right circumstances, on the right team, and with the right opportunities that this was an intelligent and realistic move.”

Sutherland took his biggest career win in stage 6 of the Pro Challenge when he attacked from the day’s breakaway to win solo on Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder. A rider built well for the weeklong stage races and Ardennes classics, Sutherland hopes his experience will make him a valuable asset to Bjarne Riis’ squad.

“My aim for 2013 is to develop more as a rider and see what I can do at the WorldTour level,” he said. “I’m older now, more experienced, and I think a fair bit stronger than when I last rode at that level back in 2005. How I fit in is up to the team and their goals. I think it will be another learning experience — for me to listen, learn, and of course take my opportunities when they arrive.”

Riis confirmed on Monday that the team had signed Sutherland for two years and said that the Australian’s personality and finishing ability made him a good fit for the Danish squad.

“Rory is a rider who I believe can be a very important for our team,” said Riis in a press release. “Throughout the talks we have had, I have gotten to know him as a great guy, genuine and dedicated to his job. His results also show, that he is a versatile rider, who is able to climb well and finish off races, when the opportunity is there. So for me it was natural to give him the chance to perform at the highest level.”

Sutherland has raced in Europe with UnitedHealthcare throughout the last two seasons and he is no stranger to top-level racing, having risen up in the Rabobank Pro Continental squad that produced BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen and ridden for the ProTour Dutch squad from 2003-2005. Sutherland’s career trajectory was flipped upside down when he tested positive for minute traces of estrogen inhibitor Clomiphene at the 2005 Deutchland Tour. He served a 15-month suspension when an independent investigation found no “indication that Sutherland was directly or indirectly implicated in expressing interest in, or in using substances classified as doping agents.”

When his sanction expired, Sutherland headed for the U.S. and a contract with Health Net (now UnitedHealthcare), ready for a change.

“When I came to the U.S. six years ago I was more concerned with getting racing and doing what was needed for the new sponsors,” he said. “I have had an amazing six years riding under the different forms of this team managed by Momentum Sports Group. This wasn’t an easy decision, I have so many great teammates and friends over the years and I am proud of what we were able to achieve.”

He won the overall title of the National Racing Calendar twice, in 2007 and 2008, and led Health Net to the team title in both years. Sutherland has won most of the major national-level U.S. stage races, including the SRAM Tour of the Gila, Joe Martin Stage Race, Nature Valley Gran Prix and Cascade Classic. He won two UCI stage races in 2012: the Tour of the Gila in May and the Tour de Beauce in Canada in June.