The Tour de Taiwan marks the first of several forays into Asia in 2014 for the Australian Professional Continental outfit and Directeur Sportif Henk Vogels believes that the team which stays vigilant will be rewarded with the overall.
“There are some hard finishes so we’ve got some good riders – I know that Robbie Hucker’s going quite well and I’ve got faith in our two sprinters,” he explained. “Generally in races like this, there will be one day where a breakaway will stick and you’ll gain some time. That, paired with some of the harder finishes are going to be very important for the overall.
“For us really, we’re going to be going for stage wins,” Vogels continued. “The overall is also very important but we’ll just play it day-by-day and be aggressive like we have all year.”
Drapac heads to Taiwan with a team primed for the challenge, consisting of Robbie Hucker, Ben Johnson, Malcolm Rudolph, Wes Sulzberger and Wouter Wippert.
Wippert claimed the team’s first stage victories of the 2014 season at the New Zealand Cycle Classic in January and will once again team up with Rudolph for the two sprint stages which bookend the five-day race.
“After New Zealand it’s good to have Mal back with me again – the trust that we are developing gives me extra confidence for the sprints in Taiwan,” said Wippert. “We have a strong team so we will go there with a certain level of expectation.”
Drapac has taken overall victory for the last two consecutive years in Taiwan – first with Rhys Pollock and then last season with Bernard Sulzberger. Despite riding to a silver medal at the recent Oceania Road Championships, Sulzberger was suffering from an infected tooth and so having since received treatment, will be unable to defend his Taiwan title.
Sulzberger will be replaced in Taiwan by his younger brother Wes who said that given he has similar strengths to that of Bernard, the race could play into his hands.
“It would be nice if I could repeat his win, just a bit of a name change, that would be really satisfying,” he admitted. “I’m feeling like I’m in pretty good form at the moment so hopefully we can do something.
“The form’s been building,” Sulzberger admitted. “I had a little bit of a break, not off the bike but with a few shorter rides and just enjoyed things a bit. I feel that over the last couple of weeks, the training’s coming along really well and at Oceanias I felt really good and had a bit of a dig in the windy conditions but Bernie was good enough to finish it off for me.”
With two consecutive victories for the team in Taiwan, Vogels said that while there would be an increased focus on Drapac, the five riders competing in 2014 would not be under added pressure to deliver a similar result.
“It’s only pressure if they put it on themselves,” he explained. “It’s not going to come from the team, that’s for sure.”
The 2014 Tour de Taiwan begins Sunday, March 9 and concludes Thursday, March 14.
Wes Sulzberger features at the 2014 Tour de Taiwan © Mark Gunter / Drapac Professional Cycling