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Aussie squad Drapac looks to transfer success to U.S. races

The Pro Continental team wants to establish a foothold in American races like the Amgen Tour of California and the USA Pro Challenge

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ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — Drapac Pro Cycling is hoping to become as well known in North America as the team is recognized Down Under.

Long a fixture in the Australian peloton since its founding in 2004, Drapac jumped to Pro Continental status this season, earning its first start in the Santos Tour Down Under.

For 2014, Drapac is aiming to establish a foothold in North America.

“We have big ambitions for the United States,” Drapac sport director Henk Vogels told VeloNews. “The U.S. racing scene is very strong right now, and we’d love to get into some of the big races.”

Vogels said the team wants to increase its U.S. presence in part because it’s the next natural step for the team. After racing with success in Australia and Asia, the squad is ready to broaden its horizons. Team owner, businessman, and real estate investor Michael Drapac also has strong ties to the U.S. market.

Vogels said team management is hoping for invitations to start such events as the Amgen Tour of California and the USA Pro Challenge later this season.

“We’re hoping to gain invitations to California, Colorado, and Utah. We’re also doing the [Silver City’s Tour of the Gila], and [the Parx Casino Philly Cycling Classic],” Vogels said. “We’ve got a really strong team. We’ve been attacking here all week, and we’d love to do the same thing over there.”

With a strong mix of climbers, sprinters, and attackers, Vogels promises the squad will light up any race it starts.

Drapac has certainly been on the move in its first Tour Down Under, with Will Clarke winning the most competitive rider prize in the opening two stages. After Jonathan Cantwell sprinted to 12th in Friday’s fourth stage, Drapac climbed to fifth in the team rankings with two stages to go.

For 2014, team brought on 10 new riders to round out its 17-man roster. Among them are four riders who raced on UCI ProTeams last season, joining up to existing Drapac riders, including 2007 Australian national champion Darren Lapthorne.

“We’ve got some really good bike riders who maybe didn’t get their chances on the big teams, and some really good young blokes, so we’re trying to develop into a next generation of Australian riders,” Vogels said. “We’re taking it up the next step. We’d love to become the world’s best Pro Continental team in the next 18 months.”

Vogels, an ex-pro who raced in North America and lived in Boulder, Colorado for eight years, knows the U.S. events well. Among his many exploits racing on U.S. pavement, Vogels won a stage at the Tour de Georgia, the FirstUnion USPRO Championships, and the USPRO criterium championships.

“California and Colorado are such great races. I see those races as the fourth and fifth best races in the world,” he said. “I know every hill, twist, and turn in Colorado. I lived there eight years. I know the U.S. scene well, and we want to bust into the North American circuit. For us, that’s the big focus.”

The Drapac team will be busy over the next several months, racing at the Herald Sun Tour and Tour of New Zealand once the Tour Down Under wraps up Sunday. After that, it’s a busy schedule racing across Asia, including a start at the Presidential Tour of Turkey in April.

The team has its fingers crossed it will get the nod to race in California.

“We want to really do well in Asia, smash it in the U.S., and become one of the best teams in Australia,” Vogels said.

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