• Craig Wiggins takes victory in the Wielerronde van Albrandswaard (mobius-Bridgelane)Source: mobius-Bridgelane
Like migratory birds travelling a route by instinct, more and more young Australian cyclists are seeking out the warmer climes and harder racing offered by European events during the Australian winter.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

24 Aug 2018 - 12:47 PM 

They are almost entirely young riders without guaranteed professional contracts, and either funding the excursion themselves or via a private sponsor or relying on locally registered continental teams to run a mid-season trip.

For many it's an eye-opener, a reality check for those who consider themselves good enough to ride at the top level in the future.

These riders are now back in Australia for the most part as racing reinvigorates locally with the restart of the National Road Series (NRS) at the Battle Recharge and the Tour of the Great South Coast in recent weeks.

Cycling Central caught up with a number of those who trekked over to Europe to find out a bit more about the allure of racing there. 

Liam Magennis (Drapac-EF p/b Cannondale)

WATCH: Liam Magennis steals the win on stage 5 of the Tour of the Great South Coast

Liam Magennis was a standout performer at the Tour of the Great South Coast, winning a stage with a late attack, and fresh off this victory talked about the differences between NRS and racing kermesses in Belgium.

"You're racing men over there," said Magennis, "while there's 16-year-old guys in this bike race. Everyone can ride full gas for 200km and you're racing two or three days a week as well. It makes you strong."

"I think racing in Australia, doing the NRS, you forget how many people there are out in the world racing, winning an NRS stage is good, but winning a pro kermesse is massive. Winning over there means a lot more."

Magennis was one of the more succesful of the riders to make the journey over to Europe and came away with a gold medal in the time trial at the World University Games in Portugal as well as bronze in the road race. The win offered bonuses for the Port Macquarie local beyond just a growing cycling palmares, also going some way to help him in his engineering degree.

"It's always good to be winning races and just from a uni perspective," said Magennis, "it's good to win at the Uni games, keeps my uni happy and helps me apply for some scholarships."

"The last two years I went to America with the New South Wales Institute of Sport, so I'd held off doing the Europe thing for a few years. It's definitely a different style of racing, it's a hard school over there."

Craig Wiggins (mobius-Bridgelane)

One rider who really announced himself to those in the know is 19-year-old Craig Wiggins (mobius-Bridgelane) who took key wins at Wielerronde van Albrandswaard and the Ronde van Oudenbosch. While neither race is one your average punter has heard of, the professional kermesse and criterium circuit is keenly watched by professional teams scouting for talented riders to take the next step.

"It was my first trip overseas," said Wiggins. "It was a big eye-opener and I was stoked to take my first win in the first race with the boys.

"We just did all crits - we were doing 90km crits three to four times a week. We don't get that here in Australia, our longest crits are 40-50km, so double the distance. It's a lot different style of racing as well, normally the break goes really early and then that sets up the race. It's full-gas racing."

Wiggins returned to Australia and hasn't been as effective since, his best result rolling fellow West Australian Sam Welsford on the line for an inconsequential fifth place in Stage 4 of the Tour of the Great South Coast.

"At the moment, I'm pretty wrecked from racing there," said Wiggins. "We landed only two days before racing Battle on the Border (Battle Recharge), I was wrecked for that race, a little bit jet-lagged. I'm just trying to get something out of this Tour."

Young talented riders like Wiggins are the ones with the most to gain in this process, they both get the chance to put their name out there for prospective employers and gain invalubale experience.

"It is a taster, a step in the right direction," Said Wiggins. "We'll have to go again next year, do some bigger UCI races, but it's a good step in the right direction."

Ayden Toovey (Bennelong SwissWellness)

One rider coming off his European stint absolutely flying is Ayden Toovey (Bennelong SwissWellness). He completed the rare feat of back-to-back tour victories in the NRS catapulting himself to the overall lead. 

Toovey was a part of the Bennelong SwissWellness team that pursued an ambitious European race schedule including a number of .1 and .2 UCI races.

"I got lucky and was able to do some really good races over in Europe," said Toovey. "They were definitely brutal, I didn't get too many top results. But it was a definite learning curve and I'm obviously benefiting from it now."

"It's a whole mix of things you learn. Positioning is a big part of it, knowing where to be, who to follow, when to be at the front - because you can't just fight all day and waste energy. I'm just happy to learn from that and go from there."

The premier Australian domestic team has included European racing in its program for years now, with the climbing races normally the best chance for young Australians to show themselves off, compared to fighting in the classics-style racing which is the bread and butter of European teams.

Ben O'Connor is the most recent example of the success of this process, taking good results at Savoie-Mont Blanc and gaining a WorldTour contract with Dimension Data off the back of the performance.

Spending a portion of the cycling season in Europe is far from the only way for Australians to progress in their cycling careers, but its rough and tumble nature increasingly calls much of the local peloton each winter.