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SEOUL (VN) — After a week of riding in support of team sprinter Brenton Jones, who claimed two of the team’s three stage wins, Drapac rider Gavin Mannion was given the green light to go for the win on stage 6 at the Tour de Korea. He nearly came up trumps with a close third-place finish behind Zhandos Bizhigitov and eventual race winner Grega Bole.
The 24-year-old Bostonian, who would ultimately finish inside the top 10 on general classification at the eight-day race, was one of the six remaining riders from a group of 10 that launched after the first KOM with 150 kilometers remaining in the 194.6km stage from Asan to Chungju on Friday.
Drapac sport director Keith Flory was pleased with Mannion’s performance and had no doubt he could deliver if given the chance.
“Yes, Gavin’s a great young rider,” Flory said. “He likes the conditions hard enough and we wanted him in the break.
“Gavin’s done a lot of work the last few days for Brenton, so last night we looked at the stage and thought it would make a great opportunity for Gavin to get a result and he did just that.”
The under-23 standout, who has earned two runner-ups in best young rider classifications — at the Amgen Tour of California and the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, both in 2013 — and a fifth-place showing at the national road race championships the same year, admittedly struggled in 2014 before regaining his footing last year.
“Yeah, 2014 kind of just started off on the wrong foot,” said Mannion, whose Drapac squad is a Pro Continental team registered in Australia. “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.”
Heading into Tour de Korea, Mannion had been biding his time waiting for the first opportunity to come his way and prove he has the goods to earn the rank of the team’s go-to GC guy.
“I came here as a team helper, basically,” said Mannion, who placed fourth overall at the USA Pro Challenge and third at Silver City’s Tour of the Gila.
“I was given freedom to look for breakaways on the hillier days and was able to get in the key break for the week that set me up to take seventh overall.
“It was a full team effort,” he continued. “We came here for stage wins and GC as a secondary objective, so to come away with three stages and a top 10 … we are really happy.”
Following Korea, Mannion joins his teammates in Europe for a loaded schedule that includes the Tour of Austria and the Tour of Portugal, two races he has his sights keenly set on.
“Moving on, I have some hard racing in Europe coming up with the Austria and Portugal,” Mannion explained. “Basically, I’ve had freedom for GC-type results if I had the legs, which is nice.
“That’s the thing with a team like this, as it’s a good level to start off on, not like going straight to a WorldTour team and being forced to ride the front of the race even if it’s one that suits you.
“In races like these, I can ride for myself and also ride for my teammates like BJ [Brenton Jones], who will give back to me when I need it.”
Although Mannion’s initial interest in Drapac came after discovering the team during their many trips to the U.S. the past two years, the former Garmin – Sharp stagiaire who previously raced for U.S.-registered Continental teams 5-hour Energy and Jelly Belly – Maxxis said he’s not discouraged by Drapac’s decision to pull back from racing in America this season in favor of a more European- and Asian-heavy calendar.
“It was a bit of a shock when they announced the 2016 racing program,” admitted the Austin resident. “I knew we would do some stuff in Europe and Asia, which is something I was looking forward to as I’ve already done a lot in the U.S.
“One thing I do feel confident of is that I know I can win with this team and move up. I think winning in race like Austria will be quite difficult given the level of riders there, but I think by achieving the best result I’m capable of, I will grow.
“I can easily put in a top-10 performance on GC, and feel confident I will be given the opportunity to do so.”
Aaron S. Lee is a pro cycling and triathlon reporter for Eurosport and a contributor for VeloNews.