Sat on the podium thrones at the Tour of Qatar on Monday afternoon after winning the second stage TTT, Jack Bauer had Paris-Roubaix champion Johan van Summeren to his left, Tour de France stage winner Tyler Farrar perched to his right.
The New Zealander could have been forgiven for pinching himself. Eight months ago, he was in less-exotic locations like Oldham, haring round Tour Series races as one of Endura's stalwarts.
This is the next stop on the late bloomer's impressive journey. A mountain-biker till his early 20s, Bauer moved to Europe set the Belgian kermesse scene alight in 2009, earning a contract with Endura.
He quickly imposed himself on the domestic scene, and was a growing presence abroad.
Last year, powerful Bauer well and truly put himself in the continental shop window with a gutsy solo stage win in the Tour of Utah.
Moving to Garmin
A late spot opening on the Garmin-Barracuda team flung the tall New Zealander onto the WorldTour scene. "It's a step up, a progression. I was lucky to get a chance," he says.
Bauer reminds CW more of a surfer than a professional cyclist with his relaxed attitude and vocabulary.
He's clearly relishing WorldTour life, finishing eleventh in his first race, the Tour Down Under.
In his second, here in Qatar, he got the win.
"This is definitely a highlight [of my career]," he said. "It's a different world [to British racing], you can't compare the two."
With a new squad, Bauer has appropriately upgraded his ambitions. "I'd really like to start Paris-Roubaix, it's a big goal. The Olympics, obviously too. I'm just keen to get stuck in," he said.
"As a neo-pro, it's all about finding your feet and your place, which is what I'm doing at the moment."
Fond memories of Endura
26 year old Bauer won't forget his two formative years on Endura in a hurry. "It was a great team and group of individuals," Bauer said.
"I hadn't had a pro team before. I owe everything I know - not that I know a lot! - to them... I aim to see the guys a few times this year."
What was Bauer;s favourite British race? "The Tour of Britain was awesome... Smithfield Nocturne - and the Otley crit," he answered quickly. "That was something else, they had a real atmosphere, which is what makes it."
Bauer looked at home standing toe to toe with Tours stars and Classic giants - although the 6'3" powerhouse is not the tallest on the team anymore.
"Not by a long way!" he joked, looking at rangy Van Summeren. But it has obvious benefits, like during that day's winning TTT effort. "At least there were some tall guys I could get behind and get a decent draft off," he joked.
Related linksGarmin-Barracuda win Tour of Qatar TTT
Jack Bauer: The Big InterviewBauer powers to Tour of Utah stage win
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