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Josh Atkins: One result could change our lives
May 11th, 12. Only two years ago Josh Atkins won the U19 road race at the NZ Club Nationals, now he is about to embark on the biggest tour of his career – the Tour of California.
The UCI2.HC Tour of California, which starts this Sunday, is one of the biggest races in the pro-calendar.
The field includes defending champion Chris Horner and his RadioShack Nissan Trek team plus seven other pro-tour teams, five pro-continental teams plus three other teams including Bontrager-Livestrong with NZ's Josh Atkins.
RoadCycling.co.nz caught up with the 19 year old second year Kiwi international while he was en route to California, having just completed the challenging Tour of the Gila.
"It is a really big deal. It's a really big deal for our sponsors, as it's in America. It's the biggest race in America and one of the biggest ones in the world so we are all very excited," said Atkins, the 2011 Tour of Southland winner.
Atkins will be joined in the peloton by fellow Kiwis George Bennett (RadioShack Nissan Trek) and the Bissell Pro Cycling pair of Patrick Bevin and Jeremy Vennell. Of the four Kiwis, only Vennell has contested this tour before.
Greg Henderson set a precedent for Kiwi success in this race when he sprinted to victory in Stage 3 of the 2011 Tour of California. He even claimed the overall tour leader's jersey for a stage.
For Atkins, however, this tour is about two things – gaining experience racing at this level, and the chance to get noticed.
"One result at this tour could change any one of our lives, and that's what I hope to do. We want to prove ourselves. It's a big opportunity to impress in front of pro-tour directors, agents and others."
Personal goalsAtkins is looking for the opportunity to give a perfomance that will make him stand out.
"I want to ride well throughout the week and see how I go. My goal would be to have a really good day and make it count."
"I'm still finding out what sort of rider I am. I'll just ride aggressively and look for the moves. Being an unknown they might let me slip away."
Following the taxing five day Tour of the Gila, Atkins is in good form, although an on-going injury means he is not at his best.
"Going into the race is going into the unknown. I know I'm in really good shape, and have been putting in the work after a bit of bad luck. My crash earlier in the year is still taking its toll on the body, but I'm in shape."
Atkins crashed earlier in the season at the Tour of Normandy when his tyre blew out while going around a corner. He went straight into a fence and smacked his back against a tree stump.
"My bad back is still not quite right yet, but the better it gets, the better I ride."
After the Tour of California, Atkins will have a break - he wants to make sure this tour counts.
"I want to finish this part of the season with a result. It's going to be hard to do it at California, but I am capable of having a good ride at some stage during the tour."
The U23 jersey is a big focus for the young Bontranger-Livestrong team.
"It's going to be a really hard tour, but great experience. I think we may actually surprise ourselves on how well we go. We have two of the best U23 climbers in the world, and the rest of us are riding really well," continued Atkins.
The Bontranger-Livestrong team won the team's classification at the Tour of Gila over the weekend, with Joe Dombrowski and Lawson Craddock finishing 3rd and 5th respectively.
Ian Boswell, another team member, is also likely to be prominent in the Tour of California according to the Kiwi.
"If Joe and Ian Boswell are riding really well then the team will work for them. Joe is riding really well, you could see him up there in the top five in he mountain top finishes."
Atkins is riding in support of his teammates.
A long way in two years
Atkins has come a long way since he won the U19 road race at the Club Naitonals in the Hawkes Bay in 2010.
"I remember those nationals, they weren't too long ago. Hamish [Schreurs] won on the same course a couple of days ago – it's crazy to think that I was where he is two years ago and now I am doing this."
"I was looking up to guys like Jesse [Sergent] who were riding for Trek-LiveStrong then, and now he is Top 10 in the Giro prologue.
"It shows where you can go and how things can move quickly. Hopefully I can keep that tradition going!"
The Amgen Tour of California runs from May 13-20th. Interviews with the other Kiwis to be published this afternoon.
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