Cycling: Kiwi James Oram adjusting to new challenge

James Oram contest the Commonwealth Games time trial
James Oram contest the Commonwealth Games time trial. Photo credit: Photosport

By the end of February, Kiwi cyclist James Oram had exhausted almost every option.

He was without a professional contract, after ONE Pro Cycling, founded by ex-England cricket wicketkeeper Matt Prior, folded last September.

His options looked grim, as he kept himself busy over the summer with Kiwi outfit Team Skoda-Fruzio.

Conversations with Australian team Mitchelton had looked promising, but in January, they told him he wasn’t being considered anymore.

Thankfully, they changed their mind.

“I was looking towards trying to race in Australia," he told Newshub. "I’d set up a few things to try and fund myself to race over there, but it wasn’t until Waitangi Day, they called me out of the blue and said they were interested again."

The call from Continental team Mitchelton-BikeExchange came as a “massive relief”. The 25-year-old promptly signed on, although his role is slightly different to usual.

The team have a large focus on developing Chinese cycling, with six riders on the roster and just two internationals - Oram and Colombian Brayan Chaves.

Oram concedes adjusting to his new surroundings is a bit of a shock.

“Going to any new team and training camps is always going to be different to what you’ve experienced in the past, but obviously going to an almost full Chinese team and a training camp in China was a completely new experience for me.”

While communicating during races hasn’t been a challenge, it’s harder off the bike. A Chinese mechanic who speaks fluent English has helped bridge the gap, but even then, sometimes things get lost in translation.

It’s offered another complexity to Oram’s role within the team.

“I lead the team at races and also at training camps to try to mentor them, and put them in the right direction to progress to the World Tour or the professional level for China.”

The team have a history of promoting talent through to the top tier of cycling. Robert Stannard, who grew up in Palmerston North, has made the step up, while Chavas also had a taste last year.

It’s a path Oram’s hoping to follow.

“The team obviously still wants me to go for results," he said. "The manager said if I show the right capabilities and form, there’s always the opportunity to move up.”

Oram completed his first race earlier this month, finishing 17th in the Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia. Competing in Asia means most of the races have only six-man teams, as opposed to eight on a Grand Tour. While that makes tactics a little harder to control, Oram hopes he can kick on for the rest of the season.

“To get a top 10 or to do really well in the general classification at one of the Asian Tours would be ideal. I didn’t nab a win last year when I was overseas, so to get a win on the board would be awesome.”

Oram is back in New Zealand for the time being, before another training camp in the middle of May to prepare for the Tour of Taiyuan in China.