• Seb Berwick celebrates in his young rider's jersey after pushing WorldTour rider Jai Hindley all the way on the queen stage of the 2020 Herald Sun Tour (Con Chronis )Source: Con Chronis
St George Continental’s Sebastian Berwick will jump to the WorldTour in 2021 with Israel Start-Up Nation, the 20-year-old securing his first professional contract after impressing during the early races of 2020.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

11 Aug 2020 - 4:43 PM  UPDATED 11 Aug 2020 - 4:46 PM

Sebastian 'Seb' Berwick was the big revelation of the 2020 Australian summer of cycling, finishing second in the Under-23 national road race behind Jarrad Drizners before going on to impress further at the Herald Sun Tour. There he finished second overall behind Team Sunweb’s Jai Hindley, particularly catching the eye with a blistering attack on Mt Buller, dropping the majority of a field with a good collection of WorldTour climbers.

Cycling Central talked to Berwick about his ascent to the WorldTour with Israel Start-Up Nation and the significance of that Herald Sun Tour performance.

“I think I was going really well in the first couple of races of the year,” said Berwick, “the couple of races we got in anyway. I’ve improved since then and I’m a bit bummed that I couldn’t do l’Avenir or those races… but Sun Tour was pretty epic.”

All-out assault on Herald Sun Tour, next stop the world for Berwick
An all-out assault in the final kilometre of the Mt Buller climb saw Sebastian Berwick drop everyone except Herald Sun Tour leader and eventual Stage 4 winner Jai Hindley. While his story was quite a different one only 12 months ago, the sky is surely now the limit for the 20-year-old.

The top-tier results in 2020 for Berwick were not completely out of the blue, he was a dual Oceania continental champion as a junior and has long been regarded as a good talent within Australian cycling. However, to show up and deliver in a race that featured two of the hardest summit finishes in Australia was a massive step-up from what had been a disappointing showing in 2019 for the Brisbane-based rider.

“I had a really unlucky year in 2019,” said Berwick. “I got sick two days before nationals and struggled through that. Then I crashed at the Sun Tour (crashed riding to the stage start on Phillip Island), had a couple of weeks off after that and was just finding my feet for Tour of Thailand. I never quite recovered from that.

“I’ve seen with a few other riders, I won’t name names, but the first half of the year is the make or break time as teams start talking to you and a lot of things get announced by August. I just went in super focused on those two events at the start of the year and it paid out.”

Berwick’s acceleration on the steepest pinch of the Mt Buller climb, flying out of the good quality field that included Israel Start-Up Nation, proved to be the head-turning performance required to pique interest.

“I had a lot of calls after that,” said Berwick. “Covid slowed it down after that, but a few teams were still interested and we came to the conclusion that Israel was the best team for me and I’m really happy to have signed for them.

“Obviously they’re looking for someone that can climb and be a future GC rider as the team develops with Froome and the back-up riders that he’s needing.”

The signing of four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome to the new players on the World Tour scene for 2021 now sees Berwick in line to ride alongside a childhood hero, with Berwick growing up watching Froome winning big races during his teens.   

“It’s crazy,” said Berwick. “It’s pretty exciting for me, being able to meet some of my heroes within the sport and be part of the same team is pretty next level.

“Yeah, I think his first Tour win was back in 2013 (when Berwick was 13) and I was watching back in 2012 when he was putting Wiggo on the ropes and what not. I wouldn’t have ever thought that I’d be on the same team as him back then. Now it’s sinking in.”

The move was attractive for other reasons as well, a three-year contract gives some certainty for Berwick that he’ll get at least a bit of time to mature into becoming as good a rider as he can be.

“First of all, they wanted to develop me,” said Berwick of the reason he chose Israel Start-Up Nation over other offers. “They gave me a three-year contract and gives me a good amount of time. The riders they’re getting; Chris Froome, Daryl Impey, Paddy Bevin and probably some big names to come, it makes sense for me to learn and grow with them. Just the experience these guys have within the team, it’s hard to turn down.”

Berwick’s path to the WorldTour is an unusual one. He was lucky to survive a horrific crash – blowing out a tire on a descent as a teenager - that left him with two punctured lungs, six broken ribs, a broken collarbone, a fractured spine and lacerations to his spleen, kidney and liver.

He recovered and spent a year in France, racing at amateur level in the numerous race over there, before returning to Australia with St George Continental and racing a predominantly Asian calendar with them. He just missed out on the ‘normal’ pathway that many of Australia’s developing stars had taken, through the Jayco WorldTour Academy, as the program had stopped the year he came out of juniors.

“I think some of the guys in the WorldTour academy knew that it wasn’t going to be around anymore,” said Berwick. “They helped me out with getting me onto that team (the French amateur squad). I got good experience over there living and doing everything for myself. I did a lot of developing as a person, off the bike, and that has set me up for next year, doing all that important stuff.”

A return to Australia for Berwick with St George Continental fit the laid-back nature of Berwick, who’s quick to laugh and doesn’t mind speaking his mind.

“It was actually really fun,” said Berwick. “The team is full of fun guys, it’s a fun environment, but when the racing is on it’s super serious. We want to win and get results.

“Including me it’s the third WorldTour rider in recent times, with Kaden Groves (Mitchelton-Scott), Ben Dyball (NTT Pro Cycling) and myself. We get a lot of wins in Asia and in Australia. It’s an underrated team and it probably shouldn’t be.”

The pint-sized climber from Mansfield hasn’t had much racing recently, and that looks set to continue with St George not racing overseas and local racing not happening until late in the year, if at all. That hasn’t deterred Berwick, as he’s hit new personal bests in power output in training recently.

“I don’t need much extra motivation. I’ll be racing the big dogs,” said Berwick. “I’ve known the news for a little while and I’ve been super pumped and training a lot. I’m more motivated than ever and keen to show what I can do.”

Berwick has shown his climbing prowess already, and is keen to continue that on the biggest stage as he named the races that he’s looking towards in the future.

“Obviously the Grand Tours, that would be fun to do a Grand Tour and I want to see how my body reacts,” said Berwick. “Israel will have a good program for me to develop and build up next year, just to see where my level is. It will be interesting and I’m sure I’ll get some good races to show my ability.”

“I’ll be trying to improve my time trials with the team and working on that while improving my climbing. I’d like to think that I can develop into a good GC rider but at this stage, climbing is a little bit better than the time-trialling.

“I’ve raced over there (Europe) a bit before. It’s a bit more stressful, more demanding, but at the end of the day that’s what I want. I think racing those races will bring out the best in me.”

The future is always an unknown, but within the turbulent world of cycling Berwick has shown he has what it takes to adapt to new situations and excel and keep a down-to-earth mentality throughout. That comes out when he names his biggest influences on his career to date and will serve him well into the future.

“My mum and dad,” said Berwick. “My coach Peter Richards, Teco Training. SEG cycling, my management, set me up with this deal and kept things stress free. My family and friends keeping me level-headed and always believing in me.”