After three years of racing primarily in Europe, Will Routley is coming back a little closer to home.
The Whistler-raised pro cyclist has signed with Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies for the 2014 season and will soon begin preparing for a race calendar that will feature races mainly in North America.
Although most of the world's prestigious road cycling races are based over in Europe, making the move back across the Atlantic is hardly a step back for the 30-year-old.
Optum is arguably the best Pro Continental squad based out of North America, and with an increasing amount of top-tier UCI races taking place in the U.S. and Canada each year, Routley will still be up against his fair share of elite competitors in the peloton.
"It's going to be tough," Routley told Pique last week from his home in Abbotsford. "I think the amount of top-level racing in North America now makes it legitimate for European teams to come over... it's a lot of international racing (over here) now."
During his two seasons with the now-defunct Team SpiderTech in 2011 and 2012, as well as this past year with Belgium's Accent Jobs-Wanty, Routley had a few opportunities to race close to home — his first-place finish in the RBC GranFondo Whistler this summer was the first time he'd participated in the hometown event — but spent most of his time over in Europe.
Routley, who recently married fellow pro cyclist and B.C. native Shoshauna Laxson and has set down roots on a Fraser Valley farm, said he was "keen to spend more time over here."
"While I was in Europe, I found myself watching races like the Tour of California on the stream online," he said. "So I was thinking, 'Maybe I'm missing out.'
"Optum is probably the best thing going in North America. It's a super solid team, so I'm pretty excited to be with those guys."
It's also a group that he's very familiar with. Routley will be reunited with Ryan Anderson, a fellow Canadian rider who was previously his teammate on SpiderTech and Symmetrics. Several others on the 13-rider roster, including another newcomer for 2014 in Brad Huff, are past teammates of Routley's as well.
"All of those guys, either as teammates or competitors, I know the majority of them," said Routley. "The environment is going to be really positive."
Upon making the decision to come back to North America, Routley put in a call to Jonas Carney, performance director of Optum's men's team, and the two quickly put together a deal that would see the 2010 Canadian road race champ join the fold.
"Will Routley has been someone I have always had my eyes on," Carney said at the time of the 2014 team announcement. "He is a North American rider with lots of European experience and that is exactly the type of guy we like on our program."
That European experience is something that Routley looks back fondly on, describing "lots of positives" both on and off the bike.
"I got to do a lot of high-level racing, certainly learned a lot, and gained a lot of confidence and strength," he said. "It was a different experience really. All you ever do over there is race 200K or more, and that alone is different than what we're used to over here."
Optum's race calendar won't kick off as early as Routley's been accustomed to in Europe over the past three seasons, which has allowed him some time to train during the day and work on fixing up the new home in the evenings. He and Laxson, who rides for Red Truck Racing, will likely be headed down to California a few weeks into the New Year to begin ramping up their preparations for the season.
Although his schedule will feature mostly domestic races, Routley is hoping to make a return trip the Commonwealth Games, which are being hosted in Scotland in 2014. Routley represented Canada at the event in 2010, placing 19th in the men's road race, and he'd like to get another shot at the Games when they take place in Glasgow this summer.
"First things first I have to get selected," he said. "But from what I've been told... it's a course that would suit me. It's a pretty hard, undulating course. (In 2010) I was really strong but didn't get the result I wanted. Ever since then it's always been something in the back of my mind that I'd like to take another run at that."
Routley also missed out on the inaugural Tour of Alberta this year and is eager for the chance to participate in the stage race in 2014. Securing strong results at the Tour of California and in the Canadian championships are also his to-do list for the upcoming season, which will be Routley's 10th as a pro road rider.
"I switched from mountain bike when I was 21 and I'll be 31 this summer. Good grief," he laughed. "It feels like just yesterday but it's been quite a long ride."