• From the dirt to the tarmac, Scott Bowden is keeping his options open. (Getty)Source: Getty
There were a lot of people Googling the name ‘Scott Bowden’ when the road squad Olympic squad for the Rio Olympics was finalised with the surprise addition of the Tasmanian mountain biker alongside Richie Porte, Simon Clarke and Rohan Dennis.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

7 Jan 2017 - 6:45 AM  UPDATED 7 Jan 2017 - 8:51 AM

His switch to the road becomes more official on Saturday as he lines up in the Mars Cycling Australia Road National Championships under 23 men's race alongside some of the other top youngsters in Australia.

The 2014/15 National Mountain Bike Series winner and under 23 Australian mountain bike champion is a sharp character, self-possessed and at ease when talking about switching up his focus from the dirt to the road. He’s dipped the proverbial toe in the water with previous appearances at nationals and notably at the Olympics but he’s yet to see if he can be successful racing a full season on the road for his new team IsoWhey SwissWellness.

“I definitely hope so, it’s still quite different, between road and mountain bike,” said Bowden. “There are lots of good attributes that you can take across from the dirt to the road. Guys like Chris Hamilton, Jack Haig, Steele von Hoff and Nathan Haas came from mountain biking. I guess that’s the goal, to follow what they’ve done.”

“I haven’t hung up the mountain bike as such. I don’t exactly know what my road calendar is like yet but if I can, I’d like to fit some mountain bike in there for sure. I still love the dirt, but we’ll see what happens.”

Bowden still maintains goals for the future in cross-country and like many the lure of competing for a medal in Australian colours on Australian soil next year holds a lot of weight.

“Comm Games is in the Gold Coast next year, in April, so not far away. It would be nice to try and give that a crack. That’s probably the biggest reason why I don’t want to rack the mountain bike at this stage. I know you can’t always do everything at 100 per cent and you have to make sacrifices but we’ll see what happens.”

It has already been an eye-catching nationals campaign for Bowden, he was very active during the under 23 criterium. He missed the early break and then when it became clear that it would stay away, he led a small group to try and bridge across.

Showing off his mountain bike handling skills, he consistently gapped his chasing companions through the corners and didn’t mind giving some terse encouragement to the riders alongside him. He was the only one to make it to the strong group of six riders but it wasn’t soon enough to allow him time to recover for the sprint.

“This is my third time back to Ballarat for the road nationals but my first time really targeting it for a result. It was a good hit out there (in the Criterium), it probably would have been nice to go a bit better or go across before the last corner of the last lap.”

He finished 7th in the race, a good performance considering he will be a lot more at home on the hilly Mt Buninyong course on Saturday.

“I think it’s a pretty good circuit for me. The Under 23 race is a bit more of a lottery I guess. There aren’t the bigger teams to control it, so it is that bit more unpredictable. For sure I’ll try to be there at the end.”

The under 23 men’s road race is arguably the most important race of the championships. So many careers and contracts are secured by winning or finishing high up in the race and whilst it is far from a guarantee of a success in the future, it is regarded by many as a key indicator of World Tour-level ability. For instance, Chris Hamilton secured a three-year contract with Sunweb-Giant based almost exclusively off last year’s victory, even when a nasty mid-season crash threw that into doubt.

Last year’s second placed finisher Lucas Hamilton (no relation) will go into the race as the big favourite and he’ll have a big target on his back. Lucas Hamilton is one of the strongest climbers of his generation and even last year’s winner Chris Hamilton was only able to hold on to his namesake’s accelerations on the climbs, he certainly wasn’t swapping turns when the road tilted upwards.

Lucas Hamilton will have to fight off numerous challenges, mostly from his World Tour Academy teammates who also had strong seasons over in Europe. Michael Storer and Jai Hindley were both winners of tough one-day races in Italy and Alistair Donohoe (Attaque Team Gusto) will be a dangerous rider, especially if it comes down to a sprint from a small group.

Callum Scotson (BMC Development) and Sam Welsford join Bowden as the Olympians present in the field, though unlike Bowden they were both members of the pursuit squad. Both have absurd power outputs but are larger riders who don’t fair quite so well on the climbs. Nonetheless, if either can muscle their way over Mt Buninyong in contention on the last lap they will be very hard to beat.

Locally-based riders are hungry to put themselves in the spotlight for the bigger teams and places on the UniSA teams and in the World Tour Academy. Dylan Sunderland (Subaru NSWIS) has been very consistent in the National Road Series in recent years and will be champing at the bit after illness last year meant he came into the race underdone.

Matt Ross and Cyrus Monk (both Drapac-Pat's Veg) are underrated talents who could slip under the radar of the expected favourites and there are also a few exceptional juniors who will be first year under 23s this year. Of those, Alistair Christie-Johnston (IsoWhey SwissWellness), Harry Sweeny (Subaru NSWIS) and converted New Zealander Robert Stannard will be other names to keep a close eye on. Stannard, in particular, will be a legitimate winning chance if his second position in the time trial is any indication.

Who is Robert Stannard?
Robert Stannard, 18, yesterday took second in Under 23 national time trial. The result aside, what was unexpected was that he was competing in the Australian nationals rather the New Zealand event.

For Bowden, the season will go on after the fireworks of Saturday’s race. He will look to follow in the footsteps of 10 other riders who have made that step up from the IsoWhey SwissWellness squad to the World Tour. Perhaps most famously Richie Porte was part of the squad before moving on to Europe. As a fellow Tasmanian, Bowden may hope to emulate the performance of those that have gone before him.

“IsoWhey SwissWellness is such a good setup and pathway, so many riders in the past have gone on to WorldTour teams. It’s a great bunch of guys and awesome support and I’m looking forward to make the most of the opportunity this year.”