The wait for a new contract to be signed can feel like a drag. When your team folds it can easily become a matter of stress. When dozens of other riders are in the same boat, the turn of the year comes and goes and still no contract comes it can be tempting to give up on the dream. James Oram didn’t and in his case the waiting and wondering led to a big win with Mitchelton-BikeExchange signing him for 2019.
James Oram’s 2018 UCI racing season came to an end on 9th September. There, racing in the colours of ONE Pro Cycling, his three year tenure with the team came to an end; as did the team itself along with fellow British UCI Continental outfit JLT-Condor. Contract deals for the following year are usually in full swing when it comes to negotiating, signing and getting ready for the big move on (or the big stay put). But for James a waiting period ensued that took him through Christmas, New Year, January and half of February.
In amongst uncertainty, Oram continued to race the New Zealand UCI calendar from Elite Road Nationals where he took 6th in the time trial and 8th in the road race, to 4th in the Gravel and Tar Classic and 9th overall (including a 5th place and 8th place in stages 2 and 4) at the New Zealand Cycle Classic. And then, as the sun set on the New Zealand summer of road cycling and the first sightings of Kiwis leaving the nest for Europe took place, the news came through. James Oram was to ride 2019 for Mitchelton-BikeExchange; the former team of a certain Robert Stannard. It was news long awaited and every bit worth waiting for.
Reality of the waiting process
“Yeah I didn’t actually physically sign the contract until the middle of February so it’s a very long wait. To have it sorted now is amazing and to have it out in the public is even better as well,” James told RoadCycling, reflecting on the months gone by.
“I had contact with other teams through that time [from October onwards] and talks that sounded promising, and that gave me a little bit of motivation to keep going. I got to late October and said to myself ‘I really love racing, it’s what I want to be doing, so I may as well give myself one last shot’ which was to do Nationals, Cycle Classic, Gravel and Tar and the racing available here with the aim of something being signed within those couple of months or something coming up. But come December where most of those talks had gone pretty quiet and I was just waiting to hear from a possible team if there was any out there; it was a pretty hard place to be.”
“After Cycle Classic I had exhausted all contact with potential teams, and then exhausted any potential UCI racing. I was left in limbo and had I not signed with Mitchelton-BikeExchange it would probably have been a very different story, I would have been getting a real job and hanging the bike up for a bit.”
When contract security for the following season is gained early it can certainly give a more tailored approach to the summer. Some orientate their summer around peaking for a single event, others go quiet throughout the summer; choosing to exclusively train away the summer days before heading abroad. When there is no contract though there’s no knowing where one may come, therefore it kind of becomes a case of every race is your world championship. But for James, the waiting game didn’t change the way he rode and raced through the summer.
“Obviously every race you go to you want to do well and you want to – especially in New Zealand races where there’s not as much control – you want to have an aggressive style so, it’s hard to say. Had I had a team or had I signed before those races I think I would have been in a more relaxed mindset, maybe more beneficial on the training side. But on the racing side it didn’t effect me too much,” James said.
Home support strengthens James
While in New Zealand James has been far from alone thanks to the support of Kiwivelo and Team Skoda-Fruzio; the latter who have long been a home for the former U23 national time trial champion while he’s been back on our shores. Their support through the summer has been extremely valuable for James; who takes it as a matter of personal pride to be able to represent New Zealand companies over here with whom he is able to enjoy a rather more personal connection.
“It’s been huge. Kiwivelo have pretty much provided a world class bike with world class servicing. I’ve had the equivalent of a professional team whilst in New Zealand which is a huge stress of the shoulders. Racing with Team Skoda-Fruzio as well, it’s really nice to race for local sponsors and local people, you feel a bit more like you can give back to them in some ways. Most sponsors on a professional team you don’t know the owner or the face behind the company so it’s been quite a cool relationship I’ve had with them both,” James explained.
Proud to be part of huge team in Mitchelton-BikeExchange
Mitchelton-BikeExchange has been the home of a host of names we know and love at the top level of the sport now, with the likes of Cameron Meyer, Lucas Hamilton, Michael Storer, Robert Stannard, all among those who have made the trip from the Continental outfit to the World Tour. There’s a lot to love about the team set up, a squad that is both well resourced and comes equipped with excellent personnel.
“It’s a huge team, with both female and male pro teams. It’s been around for 7-8 years now, so it’s an extremely well established team with not only quality equipment but quality staff, and they’re turning out a really good quality calendar for us out of Asia. It ticks all the boxes which is a lot more than I expected for something late in the year,” James told us.
Look out for James to be racing primarily on the Asian circuit this year, with events like the Tour of Langkawi, the Tour of Hainan, Tour of Qinghai Lake all on the horizon. These are events that can make a rider in this part of the globe, drawing first rate competition from World Tour outfits that have in the past included the likes of Dimension Data and Astana; as well as a host of ProContinental outfits. Oram will take his place in a squad that is made up primarily of Chinese riders – six out of the eight are Chinese, with only Oram and Colombia’s Brayan Chaves (younger brother of Esteban) non-Chinese. Oram, at 25, still has so much of his career to play out, but he will already be put into a mentorship role with a number of the riders; calling on his vast experience already picked up around the world.
“I still want to go for personal results in these larger races, but at training camps and on and off the bike at races I’ll be trying to help mentor the Chinese riders. There are a lot of things that we and a lot of European riders take for granted on and off the bike, things that come naturally or might be a bit more obvious to us. It will be really interesting teaching them on the bike and off the bike,” James said.
James’ season kicks off at the Tour of Langkawi which will be held from 6th-13th April.