• UCI World Champion in the men's road race, Cadel Evans on the podium (AAP)Source: AAP
Despite the late withdrawal of star climber Richie Porte, there is still plenty of reason for optimism for Australia at the world championships.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

23 Sep 2018 - 6:03 PM 

Australia's history in cycling is perhaps not quite as storied as the powerful European nations in the world championships, if you look at the all-time medal table, Australia sits in 15th behind some countries that don't even exist anymore, like East Germany and the Soviet Union.

However, in recent years Australia has always been a contender for the fabled rainbow jersey at every level of competition. That looks set to continue in 2018.

It is an event where Juniors announce themselves to the world, Under 23 riders secure pro contracts and riders of all ages get the rare chance to write their name into the history books on one of cycling's biggest stages.

World Champions

Cadel Evans remains Australia's lone elite-level road race world champion, winning on a mountainous route in Mendrisio back in 2009. Other road world champions have included: 

  • Rachael Linke (Jnr TT 1996)
  • Michael Rogers (TT 2003, 2004, 2005 )(U23 RR 2005) 
  • Josie Tomic (Junior TT 2007)
  • Jack Bobridge (U23 TT 2009)
  • Michael Matthews (U23 RR 2010)
  • Luke Durbridge (U23 TT 2011)
  • Jessica Allen (Junior TT 2011)
  • Damien Howson (U23 TT 2013)
  • Campbell Flakemore (U23 TT 2014)
  • Macey Stewart (Junior TT 2014)

Recent years have seen a comparative paucity of world championship bands, but there have been plenty of medals through the likes of Michael Matthews, Simon Gerrans and Katrin Garfoot. 

2018 Prospects

Men's Elite

Rohan Dennis looks to be Australia's best chance of a rainbow jersey in the championships as he lines up as one of the favourites in the time-trial. Dennis has won six out of nine time trials this season, including two convincing wins at the Vuelta a Espana. 

"So far, I think the Vuelta has been the best preparation for the Worlds in Innsbruck," said Dennis after his Stage 16 victory. "It has been tough, especially the first nine days with the heat which really knocked me around.

"Luckily, it started to cool down and I started to feel better and better. I'd rather feel better as I get further into a Grand Tour than worse. So, I think this race has been the perfect preparation for the World Championships."

Dennis pulled out of the Vuelta to focus completely on worlds, and we've seen in the past that he's been able to get himself in good condition for these one-off time-trials. The course isn't perfectly suited to Dennis, the Gnadenwald climb arguably skews slightly in favour of his main rival Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands).

If he can avoid the bad luck that saw an equipment malfunction at the Olympics and a crash in last year's world championships then a win is very much within Dennis' grasp.

Men Elite Individual Time Trial
26 September 2018 
2200-0135 
Streaming at Cycling Central and SBS OnDemand

The Innsbruck road race course is set to be one of the hardest in recent memory, with only the best climbers really in contention for the Höllberg or " Hell climb", with a section at 28 per cent, that comes at the end of a brutal day in the saddle. 

The multiple tough ascents on the 259.4 kilometre course mean that the peloton will be greatly reduced early in the piece and there will likely be a lot of aggression from the stronger climbing teams. Thankfully, Australia is one of these teams, with a strong squad packed full of talent.

It's a mixture of the experienced heads and young legs, though the obvious absentee, Richie Porte, creates a big hole in the leadership. Without Porte, I would expect Australia to pursue a much more proactive strategy, initiating moves off the front and trying to stack two to three Aussies in most attacks.

Jack Haig is the leading light of the next generation of Australian climbing talent, probably alongside Ben O'Connor who was the biggest omission from this squad. It's too soon to say that a Haig, Chris Hamilton, Rob Power or Damien Howson could match the best in world pedal stroke for stroke, but if Australia can play the tactics cannily, they would be silly to underestimate.

Rory Sutherland, Rohan Dennis and Simon Clarke add great experience and strong legs to Australia's push for the top step of the podium. Clarke won a tough stage at the Vuelta and is something of a smokey, having finished 7th on another climber's course at the 2013 world championships in Firenze.

Men's Elite Squad: Simon Clarke, Rohan Dennis, Jack Haig, Chris Hamilton, Damien Howson, Richie Porte (withdrawn-replacement pending), Robert Power, Rory Sutherland

Men Elite Road Race
30 September 2018 
1730-0130 
Streaming at Cycling Central and SBS OnDemand

SBS Viceland from 2305 AEST

Women's Elite

Katrin Garfoot was the figurehead of Australia's campaign last year, taking a bronze and a silver from the time trial and road race respectively. Now retired, the German-born Australian can't be called upon for service, but Australia has strong hopes. 

The constant drive for more: Garfoot reflects on her cycling career
For Katrin Garfoot, cycling represented a sort of equation - where effort put in was reflected in what she got out of the sport. However, the numbers didn't always add up.

Cycling Australia opted to go without a representative in the time-trial, a wasted opportunity to give a rider like Lucy Kennedy or Grace Brown, riders already present at the world championships, a chance to get acclimatised to the pressure of riding a one-off time trial against the best. The improving pair are already good time-trialists, and if they continue their improvement against the clock at the rate they've improved this season on the climbs, they'll be top contenders in the 'race of truth' in future competition. Amanda Spratt and Shara Gillow are both strong in the discipline as well.

Women Elite Individual Time Trial
25 September 2018 
2230-0115 
Streaming at Cycling Central and SBS OnDemand

The road race is Amanda Spratt's to take a run at this season. The Mitchelton-Scott team member has been on a consistent rise through the ranks in past few seasons and she now regularly ranks among the best in the climbing races. The course could be a bit better for the Sydneysider, she would prefer it to be slightly more selective, which would diminish the power of the strongest team in the race, the Dutch, and make it more down to a pure test of strength on the climbs.

Spratt is currently ranked fourth in the world according to the Women's World Tour standings, a product of her third overall at the Giro Rosa, combined with wins at the Tour Down Under and Emakumeen Bira.

The Australian will have to chance her hand against the likes of Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen and the rest of a formidably strong Dutch squad, something she's has done particularly well with bold attacks this season. The difference between this race and the rest of the season is that she won't have van Vleuten behind as a team-mate marking moves this time and she'll be racing against her phenomenally strong teammate.

Spratt will have a full support squad in attendance, with Brodie Chapman, Gillow, Kennedy and Brown all very good climbers in their own right. Any will be very dangerous if they can get themselves into the right breakaway and find themselves with much leeway.  

Brown, Kennedy and Chapman all make their debut appearances at a world championships with the trio of climbers all proven themselves accomplished over the past season of racing in Europe.

Women's Elite squad: Grace Brown, Brodie Chapman, Tiffany Cromwell, Shara Gillow, Lucy Kennedy, Sarah Roy, Amanda Spratt

Women Elite Road Race
29 September 2018 
2000-0130 
Streaming at Cycling Central and SBS OnDemand
SBS Viceland from 2255 AEST

Men's under-23 

The men's under-23 is a bit different this year for Australia as Cycling Australia has decided to include some WorldTour riders that still meet the age requirements, a change in the rules that has been in place since 2016. Jai Hindley and Michael Storer, were, according to my information, asked to be fit for the world championships, with a view to having them race the elite men's in support of Porte, they were forced out with the quality of the squad and instead join an under-23 squad that is oozing top-end talent. 

Almost all of the names on this list could be considered a contender for the world championships jersey, four of the five riders are either currently riding on the WorldTour or have a contract for next season, and Australia should be the outright favourites for the race. Callum Scotson and Cyrus Monk are the only riders who might find the climbing a touch too hard, all the rest are proven over greater challenges than this. 

Hindley's strong Vuelta ride probably puts him in a position of leadership, finishing ninth on the treacherously steep finish to Balcón de Bizkaia on Stage 17 will be more than ample preparation for Innsbruck.

Men under-23 squad: Callum Scotson, Jai Hindley, Cyrus Monk (replaces Lucas Hamilton), Michael Storer, James Whelan (withdrawn),  Robert Stannard

Men under-23 Road Race
28 September 2018 
2000-0115 
Streaming at Cycling Central and SBS OnDemand

In the time trial, Scotson will get his chance to shine on a mostly flat course, something the powerful former track star should excel at. The three-time national under 23 time-trial champion will be a real medal chance after coming 10th in 2016 and 5th in 2017.

Men under-23 Individual Time Trial
24 September 2018 
2230-0115 
Streaming at Cycling Central and SBS OnDemand

Juniors

The juniors are always something of an unknown, with little competition between the riders heading into the world championships and no reference for riders to measure their competition against.

Sarah Gigante and Anya Louw are both seasoned competitors against older riders in the National Road Series (NRS), where they have acquitted themselves well in the past. Gigante swept the national road championships back in January and her bouncy, infectious personality will be one to watch over in Austria.

Women Junior Individual Time Trial
24 September 2018 
1800-2020 
Streaming at Cycling Central and SBS OnDemand

Women Junior Road Race
27 September 2018 
1700-1940 
Streaming at Cycling Central and SBS OnDemand

Luke Plapp, Tyler Lindorff and Carter Turnbull will represent the junior men in the road race, with Plapp doubling up in the time trial. Turnbull in particular has been impressive in recent races in the NRS, with Plapp prominent in VRS racing and Lindorff the current national road race champion. They get a chance to test themselves against international competition here.

Men Junior Individual Time Trial
25 September 2018 
1800-2105 
Streaming at Cycling Central and SBS OnDemand

Men Junior Road Race
27 September 2018 
2230-0240 
Streaming at Cycling Central and SBS OnDemand