• Rob Power crosses the finish line in sixth place after a muddy 2018 Strade Bianche (Getty Images) (Getty)Source: Getty
Once touted as Australia’s most promising young rider, a prolonged absence for medical reasons saw Robert Power’s star fade. But he's back on the bike and, as his sixth place at Strade Bianche in March demonstrated, eager to make up for lost time.
By
Kieran Pender

Source:
Cycling Central
16 Mar 2018 - 8:01 AM 

Robert Power is a man of few words. Instead, he prefers to let his bike do the talking.

The first Australian to podium at the prestigious Tour de l’Avenir, where he finished second in 2014, Power was seen as Australia’s next general classification star.

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But the years since have been turbulent for the 22-year-old. Not long after signing his first professional contract with Mitchelton–Scott, Power was diagnosed with a rare form of bone marrow edema.

The prognosis from the team’s medical director, Dr Peter Barnes, was not positive.

“I’ve been in sports medicine for more than 40 years and I’ve never seen this,” Barnes told Cycling News in late 2015. “It’s in the books and the fine print, but it’s one of those things you’d never get asked about in an exam because it’s so rare.”

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The illness delayed Power’s debut for Mitchelton–Scott, and he lost the best part of 12 months. In his typically understated manner, Power recalls his stint on the sidelines as due to “some problems with my knee.

“I ended up missing a year due to that,” he says. “I was in the gym, doing exercise. That was a frustrating year, but it is good to be back. I am now injury free – no worries.”

Knee difficulties have been both a blessing and a curse for Power. A rugby union player until his teenage years – his brother Leon formerly played for the ACT Brumbies – a knee injury saw Power temporarily switch from the turf to the velodrome.

After joining the Midlands Cycling Club in Perth, the same club that launched Luke Durbridge and the Meyer brothers to prominence, Power found himself on a similar trajectory. “It was a little bit different to rugby, but I really enjoyed it,” he remembers. The switch from number eight to climber might not be common, but for Power it has been a fortuitous change of code.

“The pros definitely involves much more team work than at a younger level,” he says. ‘But working for these guys is awesome, and when you see your colleagues riding away it is just fantastic.”

Another smart decision was his move to the Jayco-AIS World Tour Academy (now Mitchelton–BikeExchange), not long after finishing second behind Caleb Ewan in the 2014 U23 national road championships. With the support of a talented junior national team, Power went on to have a stand-out year – including his impressive result at “the tour of the future”.

“The season I came second at l’Avenir was a really cool year,” he says. “It was my first year at U23 level and we had a great team – Caleb, Campbell Flakemore, some really strong guys.”

Power contested his first World Tour race at the 2015 Tour Down Under, and mid-tour it was announced he would be joining Mitchelton–Scott the following year alongside fellow talents Jack Haig and Alex Edmondson. But despite another strong season with the AIS team, Power was unable to make the same step up as Haig and Edmondson due to his knee diagnosis.

“Mitchelton–Scott was great that whole year,” he recalls of 2016. “They kept in contact with me and looked after me during rehab. The team supported me through a difficult time.”

After returning to competitive cycling late in that year, Power then experienced mixed form during the beginning of his first full World Tour season in 2017. But as the campaign progressed the performances came: he narrowly missed out on the white jersey at the Tour of Norway and finished fourth at the Pro Otztaler 5500 in Austria.

With Power now having been around the Australian cycling scene for over half a decade, it is easy to forget that the climber is just 22. He may have collected notable results since 2013, but his best is yet to come.

“I am just trying to learn as much as I can from these guys,” explains the Mitchelton–Scott rider when asked about his plans for the remainder of 2018. “I am still pretty new in the pro ranks, so I want to keep developing, enjoy the racing, enjoy the training.

“It is another step up from racing at under 23 level.”

One obvious difference between the junior ranks and the World Tour is that Power now spends most of his time riding for others, rather than seeking his own wins. While some observers have criticised Mitchelton–Scott for the workload the team has placed on Power, rather than give him opportunities to shine in lesser races, the man himself has no complaints.

“The pros definitely involves much more team work than at a younger level,” he says. ‘But working for these guys is awesome, and when you see your colleagues riding away it is just fantastic.”

Power is particularly effusive with praise for his Colombian colleague Esteban Chaves, who is targeting the 2018 Giro d’Italia pink jersey.

“Esteban is super humble,” says Power. “When he wins he always thanks all the guys on the team, so it is great working for him.”

One day, Power’s opportunity will come and others might be returning the compliment. Yet despite his impressive junior pedigree, the West Australian is cautious not to get ahead of himself.

“I want to do some grand tours – that’s definitely a goal,” he says. “I’d like to go in the direction of general classification, but we will just have to see how I go in the next few years.”

Modest and softly-spoken, Power is hardly one to make bold predictions. But if his early 2018 form is anything to go by, he won’t have any troubles surpassing his stated target for the lengthy European campaign ahead.

“Hopefully this year I can really get into it.”