It was a surprise call for Dylan Hopkins late in 2019 that changed the young Canberran’s career trajectory, from promising signs with National Road Series squad Phoenix Cycling Collective to a well-credentialed European squad UCI Continental-level team.
The Slovenian-registered squad has built a strong recent connection with Australians, with Ben Hill and Tim Guy mainstays of their squad over the past two seasons. It was Hill who provided the connection for the 18-year-old from the ACT, with the now veteran figure of Hill moving back to Australia to join Team Bridgelane while the youngster Hopkins will swap places with him in Slovenia.
“It was a bit of a surprise, getting the call up,” said Hopkins. “I got a call from Benny (Hill) to say that the team was looking at me. I didn’t have a lot of results backing me, but they said that my power was up there.”
Hopkins has spent the past two season as a member of the Phoenix Cycle Collective, an NRS squad with a strong focus on developing cycling talent from Canberra. While GC podiums and victories weren’t a staple of Hopkins stint against the older riders in the NRS, his fourth place in the Nationals juniors and Oceania juniors road race were performances of top quality.
Showings at elite level where Hopkins was regularly a part of front splits in the bunch and in the vaunted company of riders with more name recognition saw the youngster attract even more positive attention.
“I owe a lot to the Phoenix guys, taking me on board as an Under 17,” said Hopkins. “I learnt a lot under their wing; the ways of the pelo, how to move through it, what not to do. I guess the NRS in itself was a really big step for me and a great development path. I really enjoyed it.”
Riding as a 18-year-old in Europe promises to be a tough initiation, but Hopkins goes into a superb set-up in Ljubljana Gusto Santic, most famous for promoting Tour de l’Avenir winner and Vuelta a Espana podium-getter Tadej Pogacar to the WorldTour in 2019.
“I’m going over there and the way it’s been told to me is that I’ve got no pressures on me,” said Hopkins. “I’m not expected to get any results, just get a feel for it and get used to the racing over there because I understand that it’s very different to here in Australia.
“It will develop me as a rider and a person, I’ll definitely go over there, get a lot stronger and come back here for the summer of cycling in Australia and hopefully do a lot better!”
Racing over in Europe at a young age is a throwback to the old method of developing a career in cycling, with many professionals back in the 90s and 00s spending their formative years honing their skills in the one day Under-23 racing circuit in Italy.
Jai Hindley is the last Australian rider to have successfully turned early career experience in Italy into a racing career, with his performances over in Europe being leveraged into a WorldTour Academy spot later on. Hopkins, however, is taking his cue from hometown hero Hill.
“Talking to the manager over the last few weeks, we’ve laid out a number of the Italian Under 23 races and having Ben Hill being a former rider of theirs has been really helpful as I’ve been able to talk with him,” said Hopkins. “It seems like a really good team, Ben’s been with them for the past two years and he really enjoyed his time there and got some really good results. They look after their riders which is important for me as well.”
Hopkins will be run through a gauntlet of attritional racing during his first season in Europe, one which will go a long way to shaping his future within the sport.
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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger