• The peloton tackles Willunga Hill on the 2018 edition of the Santos Tour Down Under. (Getty)Source: Getty
Six of the seven members of the Uni-SA squad for the Tour Down Under have been announced with the squad to feature four Bennelong-SwissWellness members after the Continental-registered team finished first in the National Road Series standings.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

11 Dec 2018 - 1:19 PM  UPDATED 11 Dec 2018 - 2:23 PM

With Bennelong-SwissWellness merging with Mobius-Bridgelane to form Team Bridgelane in 2019, it is fitting the final season of the famous Andrew Christie-Johnston and Steve Price team management partnership has been to again propel a number of the team's riders to a position where they can show off their wares to WorldTour squads.

Winning the National Road Series (NRS) guarantees a number of selections within the Uni-SA squad, and although they won't be riding in team colours, the distinction still grants some prestige to the sponsors and organisation.

Simon Jones, High-Performance director for Cycling Australia, talked to Cycling Central about the mix between showcasing riders to top-level team as well as supporting the teams that enable year-round development for the athletes.

"We've got a two-pronged approach in how we're approaching road (development); an athlete-focused approached and also with the teams," said Jones. "We've got almost a hybrid approach, allowing NRS access to these national teams at big races on a tiered basis, plus we'll then supplement that team with individual athletes.

"The reason that we are doing this is we want a vibrant domestic racing scene and this is part of the strategy to help these team get a bit more visibility and take up their role in what is a great opportunity for Australia."

Neil van der Ploeg (Madison-Genesis) was selected for the team after a season racing in the UK and will come into the team as the most experienced member, with the 31-year-old former cross-country skier having ridden the Tour Down Under as part of the national team back in 2014 and 2015.

"Our strategy is quite simple," said Jones. "We want a mix of experienced riders, we wanted to also create a team for development athletes as well and I think we've got a good mix of skills, abilities and capabilities within the team. Then you look at the realities with availability and fielding full teams."

Nick White (Oliver's Real Food Racing in 2018, Team Bridgelane in 2019) is the other non-Bennelong-SwissWellness rider selected, coming in off the back of a consistent season in NRS where he finished second overall. 

The Bennelong-SwissWellness riders form a strong core of climbing types, with recent Tour of Tasmania winner Dylan Sunderland and South Australia local Chris Harper the two best-credentialed when it comes to climbing at an elite level. 

The last spot is set to be filled after taking into account the performances of riders at the national road championships in Ballarat. The likes of Cyrus Monk (Drapac-EF), Kaden Groves, Alex Evans (both SEG Racing) and Sam Welsford will all be riders looking to secure that final position on the team.  

"Looking at what happened before, the TDU positions were, by and large, picked from nationals performances and we feel that's quite important to keep open, particularly for the Under 23s. Athletes do emerge and we'd like to keep that open."

The Australian 'Summer of Cycling' has traditionally been one of the best ways for local riders to thrust their name forward and pave their way onto a WorldTour squad. Recent examples include Chris Hamilton, who secured a contract with Team Sunweb based almost entirely on his national road race win which preceded solid showings at the TDU and Herald Sun Tour. 

Despite a nasty crash wiping out most of his 2016 season, Hamilton was signed largely off the strength of those early results. 2018 may see a similar talent emerge and secure their future within the sport.  

"It's part of the pathway," said Jones. "If we go back and look at the evidence and the history, the summer of cycling has been a really good showcase for Australian talent.

"Looking at our strategy, the athlete is very important but so is the structure. Road cycling is about teams. We wanted to look at the teams and tweak the strategy a bit because ultimately it's the teams and the sponsors that really make road cycling, from WorldTour down to a Continental level. It's important, not just for athletes, but for a sustainable, healthy domestic racing scene."

UniSA-Australia Men’s Team - 2019 Santos Tour Down Under 

  • Chris Harper
  • Dylan Sunderland
  • Ayden Toovey
  • Jason Lea 
  • Neil Van der Ploeg 
  • Nick White 
  • The final member of the team will be announced following January’s FedUni Road Nationals.