Sunderland and Dyball are well known on the Australian Continental scene, showing themselves to be the cream of the local crop of talent in local racing as well as overseas in UCI-ranked races in Europe and Asia.
Sunderland, in particular, seemed destined for the top-tier of cycling from an early age, regularly mixing it up with the best local climbers in Australia and even besting riders who would go on to WorldTour status before him.
Notably, he out-duelled Lucas Hamilton (now Mitchelton-Scott) on a stage of the Tour of Tasmania in 2016 after the pair had escaped up the major climb of the day. While riders of his generation like Hamilton, his namesake Chris Hamilton, Jai Hindley, Robert Power, James Whelan, Ben O’Connor and Michael Storer have been snapped up by some of the biggest teams in the world, it has been a task of perseverance for Sunderland.
“It’s definitely taken a bit longer than other riders, I’ve had my fair share of setbacks,” said Sunderland. “It’s taken quite a while and I’ve just had to keep at it and it’s happened.”
I was pretty overwhelmed to start off. It wasn’t something I expected to happen, I wouldn’t say I’ve had an amazing season – it’s been okay – but I wasn’t expecting the call-up.”
Sunderland’s version of okay may differ from others. After completing the 2018 season with the overall win at the Tour of Tasmania, he was fifth in his debut elite national championships road race on a brutal day in the saddle and went on to strong showings just behind the elite climbers of the world peloton at the Herald Sun Tour.
However, the result that Dimension Data, soon to be NTT, identified particularly in its press release was his fourth overall at the Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc.
“They’ve been watching me for a while now,” said Sunderland. “I’ve had contacts with them over a certain period and I think Savoie was the real drawing card. It’s pretty much the tour where they take all the hardest mountain stages they can and put it into the one tour.
“To ride in support of a teammate (Chris Harper, who ended up winning the race) and still take a really good result for myself, it was a great result.”
For Dyball, it looked like he had been left behind in the push for young talent to keep re-stocking the ranks of the WorldTour squads. As a young rider, he was always a top talent, he won the Under 23 nationals road race back in 2011 ahead of Nathan Haas, Rohan Dennis, Jay McCarthy and Luke Durbridge.
Dyball was always a top climber and time-triallist but struggled with consistency in the early years of his career in amongst problems associated with crashes, over-training and what he has described in the past as a borderline eating disorder where his weight was down to the mid-50 kilogram mark.
Past those issues and in the form of his life in recent years, it nonetheless looked like Dyball might miss out on a spot in the WorldTour, a rider who peaked slightly too late to fit into the mold of a normal recruit for the elite ranks.
“It’s a little bit of disbelief,” said Dyball about receiving the news. “After 2017 when I was with Delko (French pro-continental squad) and didn’t get a contract I was resigned to the fact that it wasn’t going to happen.
“So when it did happen… it’s still hard to believe that it has happened. I so relieved to get this chance.”
Marquee victories over the years displayed his talent, but it hasn’t been until the past two seasons that Dyball has consistently racked up the results that he has shown flashes of in the past. He currently sits as the top-ranked rider on the Asian UCI tour and turns up to any race with a hill or a time-trial as the favourite.
“I just put a lot less pressure on myself than the past and the results kept coming,” said Dyball. “I realised that I could win the biggest races in Asia and could be rewarded for it, people take notice.”
2019 was a step-up for Dyball, not quite the one he’s now achieved but a significant one nonetheless, as Team Sapura picked him up with the intention of winning their home race, Le Tour de Langkawi. With it came more money than previously in Dyball’s career and also more responsibility heaped onto his shoulders as the Malaysian squad brought him into the team expecting a win.
Dyball duly delivered after going into the race in scorching form off a sweep of the Oceanias time trial and road race, winning the queen stage and the overall against a classy field.
“They (Sapura) saw that I had it in me to win the race and I went in as favourite,” said Dyball. “To deliver when you go in as the favourite is never easy and I’ve been told that was a big part of why they (NTT) offered me a contract.”
Both Dyball and Sunderland were reserved in predicting immediate success against WorldTour opposition, but were relishing the opportunity to step up and perform for a well-supported and run squad like NTT.
“I don’t expect to win races, but all I can do is my best,” said Dyball. “If the results come then that’s awesome. I just want the opportunity to have a proper go at it and anything I can take out of the year will be a positive for me.”
“They basically said that it will be the Aussie nationals, Tour Down Under, Cadel’s race and then I think maybe go to Oman or UAE. Apart from that, I’ve always wanted to see what I could do against the better climbers in a proper mountain race. I’m aiming for that and I’m keen to see how I’d do in an individual time trial at that level.
“Now that I’ve got the chance I’m not going to just let it slip by.”
Sunderland was enthused at the opportunity of getting into competition for his new squad but tempered his joy with the reality of the enormity of the task ahead with NTT.
“I think it’s going to be a massive shock to the system to be honest,” said Sunderland. I’m not expecting too much in my first year, I think it will be a massive learning curve and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
“I love the culture in the team. They seem really driven and focused on getting back to the top of their game and they feel I fit in a position that’s going to help them reach that. I really like their belief in me and that’s really a big drawing card for myself.”
With both having taken a more roundabout route to the pinnacle of world cycling than many within the sport the development pathway hasn’t been as clear and has relied upon the support of domestic squads.
“It’s definitely a good stepping stone, the domestic scene, to going overseas and racing well there,” said Sunderland.
“Andrew Christie-Johnston (director with Team Bridgelane) was good enough to give me a spot a few years ago. I was in a difficult spot at the time, I was between teams and Andrew gave me a shot. I think I was the last guy to sign for the squad, that was how late it came around.”
“I managed to prove myself at the start of that year and he’s believed in me since then. He and Tom Petty (manager of Team Bridgelane) have given me a bit more responsibility, to be a road captain and step and take leadership as well. They’ve backed me the whole way the last two years.”
Dyball’s career went through Christie-Johnston’s squad as well, but it was with St George Continental that he showed the consistency that would win him a spot with Sapura, leading to his WorldTour berth.
While they are separated by some years, it has been a long, tough slog to this point for both of the New South Welshmen and perhaps that makes them more hungry to grab their opportunity with NTT in 2020.