The best of the Australian cycling talent regularly gets a call-up to the WorldTour peloton, so who’s looking likely for a professional contract in the 2021 season? Jamie Finch-Penninger takes a look at the top names from the mens side of things.
Last year was a good one for Aussie men looking to make the step up, with Chris Harper (Jumbo-Visma), Dylan Sunderland, Ben Dyball (both NTT Pro Cycling) and Kaden Groves (Mitchelton-Scott) securing neo-professional contracts at WorldTour level.
Two – as in 2019 – is more the norm, and with the current uncertainty surrounding cycling and the coronavirus crisis, there may be a few teams collapsing, leaving less employment opportunities in the already cutthroat competition for WorldTour roster spots.
I’ll take a look at the local talent that can potentially catch teams’ attentions, from most to least likely. I’ll ignore riders that have already been at WorldTour level like Leigh Howard and Steele Von Hoff, to keep the numbers down.
Track Team – Lucas Plapp, Kell O’Brien, Sam Welsford, Alex Porter and Cameron Scott
All of these riders look to have the transferrable skills and abilities to be good riders at a WorldTour level with all achieving some level of success on the road at national championships and in the National Road Series (NRS). With the Olympics being pushed back to 2021, there are a lot of questions for this bunch, I would imagine Plapp, O’Brien, Porter and Welsford will continue with the Australian Cycling Team, but Scott initially missed out on selection. Perhaps there will a reselection or maybe Scott is retained on the payroll for the team, but he’ll be the most likely at this stage to look to take the next step in his road career.
The Wagga local has some of the best prospects of the track converts. What I particularly like about Scott, 22, is his ability to absolutely dominate sprints at the end of tough races. He has excelled at the longer races on the Australian calendar, cleaning up bunch sprints for third at Grafton to Inverell and fourth at the Under 23 nationals, probably a race he would have won if teammate Michael Potter hadn’t been up the road. His performances at Qinghai Lake in 2018 is what will attract most teams as he took a win and a number of placings against good opposition in the closest thing to a Grand Tour outside .HC level.
Held in high esteem by everyone that he’s raced against, but is quite a reserved character and might not put himself out there much and he probably wouldn’t fit immediately into the team culture of a matesy team like Mitchelton-Scott. Described by Tim Decker -wasn’t while being recorded but forgive me Tim- as potentially becoming one of the ‘best sprinters in the world’. I’ll back that up with my own prediction, I think he wins Milan Sanremo one day.
Alex Evans, 23, is Australia’s premier climber outside the WorldTour and secured a gig on Pro Continental squad Circus-Wanty Gobert last offseason, managing to snag a place on the team late in the year. He broke his elbow during a bunch ride leading up to the national championships and had the early part of his season derailed by that injury.
I had a chat with Evans in 2019 that never quite found the right time to be released, check it out here if you want more information. While one of the best climbing talents in recent years, the knocks on Evans are his bunch skills and work ethic within the team, with Evans acknowledging that those are areas that he needs to work on. If no WorldTour teams wanted to pick him up for 2020, it’s unlikely that will change next year without results, so racing resuming will be important for Evans.
Jarrad Drizners, 20, is coming off a blockbuster start to 2020 after 2019 saw him crowned the National Road Series champion with a consistent run of results across the season seeing him easily secure the crown. The former Inform rider then won the Under 23 national road title without the support of a team and impressed mightily at the Tour Down Under, where he looked at home in a WorldTour peloton.
His new team, Hagens Berman Axeon, is the premier development team in the world and the perfect spot for Drizners in 2020. Drizners was really looking forward to racing with the American squad, but has had precious few chances before racing shut down. An incredibly versatile rider who has really come on leaps and bounds since concentrating entirely on the road.
Is 2021 too soon for Drizners in the WorldTour? I’d say not, he’s been very progressive in his time on the road and while teams will probably want to see this confirmed in the back half of 2020, the likelihood is that Drizners gets snapped up.
It’s a pretty important season for Nick White, 22, with the first-year elite rider hitting the sweet spot where WorldTour interest peaks before falling off as riders get older. You can pick up professional contracts later on, see riders like Ben Dyball and Rory Sutherland, but you really need an overwhelming case at that point to force your way in.
White is an intriguing rider, tough as nails and can win races in a number of different ways. A fast sprinter with a good enough power-to-weight ratio to follow even on hard climbs. He excels in the longest Australian races -winning the Melbourne to Warrnambool and should have won the Grafton to Inverell- a trait which will stand him in good stead if he gets to make the step up.
His 2020 has been a rollercoaster, his Tour Down Under was a rough introduction to the WorldTour in a very hard edition of the race. He crashed in the first stage of the Herald Sun Tour, breaking a rib and puncturing his lung, but struggled to the finish and then started the Melbourne to Warrnambool a week and a half later, finishing a commendable 10th. White then won the Tour de Taiwan with a series of attacks and strong sprints, despite still nursing pain from his ribs. He projects as a Jay McCarthy, Michael Matthews sort of rider, the question will be whether he can win in a similar manner at the next level.
Sebastian Berwick, 20, wasn’t really on my radar -despite his status as a star junior- after coming back from a season in France and spending a year with St George Continental being relatively anonymous. However, the slight-framed climber impressed with his start to 2020, with second in Under 23 nationals road race and then mixing it with the WorldTour mountain goats to finish second overall at the Herald Sun Tour.
Those results are almost enough on their own to attract interest from top teams, but the main knock on Berwick currently is that is really the only results that have caught the eye for the Queenslander. The challenge will be finding the right races for Berwick’s talents, he clearly excels on the steep gradients and long climbs and will need a few more mountain top finishes to take the results he needs to remind WorldTour teams of his talents.
Tyler Lindorff, 20, is a bit more of a projection from me on this list, but I’ve been impressed with everything I’ve seen so far and those in and around the Bridgelane team have good things to say about him. Only beaten by WorldTour-bound teammates Chris Harper and Dylan Sunderland on the key Tour of Tasmania climbing test of Poatina.
Unfortunately, his 2020 season has been blighted with awful luck. He crashed three times during the nationals road race and finished fourth, then crashed twice more during the Tour Down Under for an eventual DNF. Reports from the team have indicated none of the crashes have been Lindorff’s fault, and it really cruelled his chances to show his best form on the climbs. He would have been a sneaky chance at the Herald Sun Tour for instance.
With the rest of the 2020 season up in the air, the question will be if Lindorff can show his stuff ahead of contracts for 2021 being signed and that looks very unlikely at the present. A powerful climber with a good attitude and good history of progressing his abilities.
Jensen Plowright, 19, is another Team Bridgelane prospect that will be ruing his crash luck at the start of the season. Crashing hard into the barriers at Race Torquay, Plowright broke bones and put himself out of the Herald Sun Tour, which would have been a great chance to go against WorldTour opposition.
Matches the track team for speed to the line, is a few years younger and has the sort of swagger that you expect from a sprinter leader. Is a pure sprinter and what he needs to do next will be to show that he can win sprints consistently when there are some difficulties, either the length of the race, hills or classics-style conditions. Some UCI wins in Asia, Europe or the US wouldn’t go amiss either.
2021 is probably too early for Plowright, there’s still a bit of maturing for him to do, but with the penchant for teams to pick up riders younger and younger these days, a team taking a flyer on the young sprinter wouldn’t be ridiculous.
Part 1 of 2 for the men. Check back in the coming days for the hopefuls that are maybe slightly longer shots to get a call to race in the WorldTour!
By Jamie Finch-Penninger