• Ben Dyball on the charge during Stage 3 of the Tour of Thailand (St George Continental Cycling Team)Source: St George Continental Cycling Team
It's been a good period for Aussies beyond the bright lights of the World Tour, with a number of significant wins for the talented riders that don't quite attract the same headlines as the established stars of the sport.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

12 Apr 2018 - 4:25 PM  UPDATED 28 Apr 2018 - 9:02 AM

James Whelan pulls off a ridiculous win in Flanders Espoirs

In his first race over the cobbles, James Whelan (Drapac-EF) defied the conventional logic of those that would have thought that the victory of one of the biggest Under-23 races on the calendar would go to someone with more experience. Whelan spoke to Cycling Central after his performance for the national team.

"The journalists were asking where this performance ranked in terms of my races in Europe," said Whelan, "they were shocked when I said that this was my first race in Europe and my first race over the cobbles!

"Cyrus (Monk) and I arrived 8 days ago and reconned the course three times in the days leading up to the race. So we knew the climbs and those flat sections almost like a local by the time it came to race."

Whelan made his move with 19 kilometres remaining in the race, soloing off the front of a reduced peloton and staying clear into the finish to win by six seconds.

"We had three in the final split and I made my move up one of the last climbs," said Whelan. "The idea was to go when everyone was in the red and put the pressure on the guys behind.

"That way, even if I got brought back, we would have two guys who've been sitting in and saving energy and we'd still have a good chance of winning.

"The group behind wasn't organised and I worked really hard out front to make sure I got the win."

Robert Stannard (Michelton-BikeExchange) sprinted to third from the chasing group to put two riders on the podium for the national team with Whelan's Drapac-EF teammate Cyrus Monk also up the front in tenth. 

It has been a rapid rise up the ranks for 21 year-old Whelan, who made his debut in the NRS in September last year, almost won the Tour of Tasmania as an individual rider then put in good showings at the nationals, Herald Sun Tour and Oceania Championships. 

Many riders have made it to the World Tour with a lesser palmares and the Tour of Flanders Espoirs win will ensure that many teams at the top will be very keen to sign up the former middle distance runner.

"I've held good form when it matters and good luck as well," said Whelan of his early career success. "I haven't had any injuries so far and I've been lucky with illness as well.

"That'll come of course, so it will be a matter of dealing with those things as they come up."

The national team is this being run entirely by Gerry Ryan's Michelton-BikeExchange set-up, after Cycling Australia's funding reallocation away from the road development teams, continuing the long-term support that Ryan has provided to Australian cycling.

"It's important to mention the support of Gerry Ryan in this race," said Whelan. "Originally this year there wasn't going to be a national team run by Cycling Australia, so Gerry Ryan's Michelton-BikeExchange team have been kind enough to step up and fill that hole, even taking on-board a couple of Drapac guys like myself and Cyrus." 

Whelan will race the ZLM Under 23 race this weekend before returning to Australia to finish off his university semester where he is studying for a Bachelor of Urban Development and Regional Planning.

The bad news out of the race was that fellow Aussie youngster Sebastian Berwick fractured a bone in his arm as a result of a crash during the race.

Berwick is a young rider who has opted to go down the route of working his way up through Europe with the AG2R-La Mondiale development squad. The Brisbane local came back from a life-threatening crash as a 17 year-old, so a broken bone is unlikely to set him back too much.

Dyball in career-best shape as he takes Thailand victory

Backing up from his third-place overall against top competition at the Tour de Langkawi, Dyball (St George Continental) made the most of his purple patch of form to win the Tour of Thailand. He also managed to turn the tables on Artem Ovechkin (Terrengganu Cycling), who had taken the overall win in Langkawi.

Dyball spoke to Cycling Central about his approach to the races in Indonesia and Thailand. 

"In Langkawi, I was unsure of what I could actually do at that level (a .HC race, one step down from World Tour). I've only really done one race of that level before and I was sick at the time so to finish second (on the queen stage) gave me a lot of confidence."

"In Thailand, I was confident I could get on the podium, the question was whether I could beat Artem or not. I was pretty happy to get one better on him in that race."

The preparation for the early part of the season was derailed by chronic fatigue at the end of 2017, causing the Sydney-based rider to miss the Australian summer of racing.

"I had to have a longer break at the end of the year. I had chronic fatigue and basically I only I started training again on the first week of January. It was different having Christmas off this year and being able to relax a bit more, the first time in a few years. 

Dyball's career has been an interesting one, equal parts amazing potential and performance, contrasted by frustrating inconsistency at other stages. He has battled eating disorders, unfounded perceptions of his bike skills and abilities while showing himself to be one of the best climbers in Australia, even including World Tour riders. Ominously for competitors, Dyball said that this may the best he has ever been. 

"This is probably the best form I've ever been in," said Dyball. "You never know until you actually race but my numbers are good enough to give anyone a good run on a climb.

"It's different when there are bigger teams there with more riders to play different tactics. That's where it's a bit harder but one-on-one I think I match up well."

The main problem for Dyball in the past, one that the skinny climber acknowledges, has been one of putting together a consistent string of performances. It appears that he's done that this time round, though he's been unable to put his finger on the exact change that has brought it about.

"My training is the same as I've done before," said Dyball, "for some reason I've been able to back it up this time. As for the actual reason I'm not sure, I haven't done anything dramatically different. The main difference was having those six weeks off the bike, not doing anything more than a coffee ride."  

Dyball will next be in action for St George Continental at Grafton to Inverell, with the Tour of Kumano the next race scheduled for Asia.

Other news for Aussies abroad

There's little to report in the womens scene beyond the World Tour races, though Grace Brown (Holden Women's Racing) is expected to be picked by an international team soon after her superb summer and recent Oceania time trial victory.

There has been a massive increase of Continental teams over the last season. So much so that they are now actively competing against each other for race invites, particularly in Asia where often only one team per country secures an invitation.

The Australian Cycling Academy-Sunshine Coast has certainly hit the ground running. In its first year as a team they've already taken national titles, stage wins, tour wins and supported multiple riders to Commonwealth Games medals.

Michael Potter took an eye-catching overall victory at the Tour of Tochigi in Japan, winning both the opening time-trial and a road stage along the way. They also secured a big race invite and will line-up at the Tour of Qinghai Lake, informally known as Asia's Grand Tour. 

Bennelong-SwissWellness continue chugging along as one of the powerhouses of the local scene, they'll be in Europe and Asia across the next few months. One would expect the Tour of Korea and the Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc to be big targets for them.

Mobius-Bridgelane are off to the United States at the moment, preparing for a solid block of racing with the Tour of the Gila a major focus. 

Oliver's Real Food Racing are showing themselves to be the masters of securing interesting race invites. They have a long history at events like the Tour of New Caledonia and soon they'll be adding the Sri Lanka T Cup to their resume as well as a return to the Tour de Filipinas.

Team McDonalds Downunder suffered a bit of a blow when the Tour of Azerbaijan was cancelled, cutting off what was likely the major focus of the season for them.

Brisbane Continental Cycling started off the season with good results locally and will look to make their mark on Asia as they compete in the Tour de Filipinas in May.