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Bevin ready to bounce back at Gent-Wevelgem

NEW ORLEANS (VN) — It was starting to look like a storybook rookie campaign for 25-year-old neo-pro Patrick Bevin (Cannondale) after the New Zealander cracked the GC top 10 at both the Santos Tour Down Under and the Tour du Haut Var to start the 2016 season.

The reigning national time trial champion followed up those two impressive showings with a third-place performance in the prologue at Paris-Nice earlier this month. Then he spent five days in the top four on GC before being forced to withdraw on the seventh and final stage due to a crash suffered on stage 5 that resulted in a fractured rib — but not before the 2015 Australian National Road Series (NRS) champion gutted out a grueling stage 6 summit finish to La Madone d’Utelle.

“That was probably the worst day I’ve had on the bike ever,” Bevin told VeloNews from his Spanish-based home in Girona on Thursday. “Hindsight is always 20/20, and I could have pulled out following the crash to go straight into the next block of racing with an extra day of recovery, but at the time there was no way I was going to pull out unless I absolutely had to, which ended up being the case on the final day.”

After spending the first week in agonizing pain, Bevin was back on the bike and already preparing for a spot on the start line at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday.

“The rib is much better,” Bevin said. “The first week was horrendous and then it kind of came right after 10 days, and from then I could ride rather freely.

“The Belgian Classics are not easy races and you don’t want to go in compromised at all,” he continued. “I will do the best I can, but the main goal is to gain experience that will help me in the future.”

Bevin rode with US-based Continental team Bissell Pro Cycling from 2010 through 2013 before turning his attentions toward the track and the Commonwealth Games in 2014, and then spent 2015 with the Avanti Racing Team before signing with Cannondale in October. Avanti is the latest incarnation of a New Zealand-registered squad that has served as a launching pad for many of the world’s top riders to hail from Down Under, including Richie Porte (BMC Racing), Nathan Haas (Dimension Data), Jack Haig (Orica – GreenEdge), Nathan Earle (Drapac), and Campbell Flakemore (formerly BMC Racing) — with Bevin being the latest call-up.

Not only did Bevin claim the overall NRS crown and help give Avanti its fifth straight team title (and sixth overall), but the North Island native from Taupo also racked up stage wins at last year’s Herald Sun Tour, Tour de Taiwan, and Tour de Korea, in which he outsprinted Aussie sensation Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) and new Cannondale teammate Wouter Wippert.

One of Bevin’s early-season proponents is Cannondale team manager Jonathan Vaughters, who likes the Kiwi’s chances at developing into a classics rider in the not-so-distant future.

“I do not feel that Patrick’s long-term future in cycling is going to be as a cyclist who makes his living in the true mass field sprints, but more so in selective sprints,” Vaughters told VeloNews in February. “A really good example of a selective sprint is Gent-Wevelgem.

“I think he will become a classics rider, but he will of course have to adapt to the colder weather, harsher conditions and narrower roads of the northern classics,” he continued. “But for me, races like Gent-Wevelgem will be very well suited for him, maybe eventually Tour of Flanders – probably not this year, but as we go forward Flanders will become a race he is capable of contending in as it’s not a sprint of 180 guys, it’s a sprint of 30, 40, or 50 guys — it’s a race that requires explosive power to make final selection.”

With Gent-Wevelgem on deck, followed by De Panne-Koksijde, the Tour of Flanders, and Scheldeprijs, Bevin will continue to get his chances to shine in whatever role he is asked.

“In the future, I would love to win a Belgian Classic,” said Bevin, who will be riding in support of his more experienced teammates Matti Breschel and Sebastian Langeveld. “In a first year, whether you’re injured or not, it’s a huge ask to ask a rider to even race those races.”

“I’m coming in as neo-pro and an unknown commodity racing in Europe, and I feel like there are a lot of question marks over me from the team’s perspective,” he said. “Hopefully I have kind of alleviated some of those questions and we can look towards the rest of the season and set some new goals.

“In the grand scheme of things, this injury is just a speed bump,” he said. “It’s not ideal but I feel like I will be there and I will be fit, healthy and will be able to do my job.”

Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a contributor to VeloNews.