• Potential Australian WorldTour riders in 2022 from L to R); Lucas Plapp, Sam Welsford, Jarrad Drizners (AusCycling/Con Chronis)Source: AusCycling/Con Chronis
Every season, Australian cycling offers a crowd of riders hoping this year will be the one they step up to the UCI WorldTour. Here's a look at the best Aussie men who can potentially take to the WorldTour in 2022.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

24 Feb 2021 - 3:05 PM 

It's probably the most consequential step of a rider's career; making the step into the professional ranks, going from the ranks of the semi-pros and amateurs, which is essentially a full-time job in training - often mixed with study or part-time work - to the real deal.

With a disrupted 2020 season and the 2021 season already starting in the same fashion, it's looking like it will be a year of limited opportunities for riders looking to show their credentials for overseas suitors.

While a lot of the domestic calendar looks like it will be run, there are precious few opportunities for overseas racing for Australia's top talents.

This list doesn't really take into account those issues, with the potential permutations of the season impossible to predict with accuracy.

The list doesn't include Jay Vine (Alpecin-Fenix) who races below WorldTour status at ProTour level, and is on salary and will race in some of the biggest events in the world.

Aussie riders who can go pro in 2022 - Part 2
Every season, Australian cycling offers a crowd of riders hoping this year will be the one they step up to the UCI WorldTour. Here's a look at the best Aussie women who can potentially take to the WorldTour (or related high-level team) in 2022.

The dead certainties

Lucas Plapp (Inform TMX MAKE/Australian Cycling Team) - It would be a big surprise if the newly-minted Australian time trial champion didn't sign a pro deal. Indeed, he'll probably sign a deal for this year, with plenty of racing still to come after his commitment to the Olympics track squad. 

At just 20, he's already showing the ability to beat the best in Australia handily, now he needs a bigger challenge on the world stage. A driven rider with a massive motor.

Plapp dethrones Durbridge with massive ride for TT title
The 20-year-old came into the time trial with a lot of hype around his performance at the Santos Festival of Cycling, but few were expecting him to dominate his competition in such stellar fashion, finishing over a minute ahead of four-time champion Luke Durbridge (Team BikeExchange) and Kell O'Brien (Inform TMX MAKE).
Plapp courted by WorldTour teams after Festival of Cycling success
Lucas Plapp has got a wealth of options for a potential WorldTour spot after the Tokyo Olympic Games, with teams getting in touch with the Australia 20-year-old.

Kelland O'Brien (Inform TMX MAKE/Australian Cycling Team) - Outside of Plapp and Luke Durbridge (Team BikeExchange), you would have been hard-pressed to find a better performer at the nationals than O'Brien. He's very versatile, he's perhaps best known as a sprinter from his National Road Series (NRS) performances, but he's a gun against the clock and is also a strong climber. He'll need a team that will support his development and a bit of time to find his feet on the road and work out what specialisation will suit him best.

Sam Welsford (Australian Cycling Team) - Rounding off the top talents from the track program is Sam Welsford. While a rider like O'Brien has plenty of different ways that he can go, Welsford's path is obvious... he's a sprinter. He's perhaps got a bit of versatility in terms of his ability to handle long races and he showed at nationals that he can drag his massive quadriceps over hills, but he's a rider that's just about as fast as WorldTour sprint stars already and he could potentially be one of the quickest.

They are ready

How Cameron Scott (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) doesn't already have a contract is beyond me. I understand that scouts might not take in the intricacies of NRS racing, but the former track rider has world titles and UCI wins in good races to his name. He's a very good sprinter who excels at the end of hard races and can climb better than 90 per cent of sprinters. 

He's coming off a nasty crash towards the back end of the season in the NRS, where he hit a stationary motorbike as part of a mass pile-up, suffering a triple fracture to his pelvis and other internal injuries. The biggest surprise of the national championships was seeing Scott roadside moving normally. Apparently, he's weeks ahead of schedule and it shouldn't be long before he's back to some measure of form, amazing considering the severity of the crash.

ARA shine as Scott and Roseman-Gannon complete NRS double
Ruby Roseman-Gannon stuck with the elite climbers of the women's National Road Series peloton over the final hills into Tyalgum before sprinting to the win, with Cameron Scott following the same script in the men's just 20 minutes later to make it a day to remember for ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast.
Great Scott tipped for big future
Cameron Scott was a surprising omission from the track team that will head towards the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, with the 22-year-old left out of the strong team pursuit squad. Now he’s focusing on road racing, with an eye on reaching the WorldTour sooner rather than later. Jamie Finch-Penninger talks to Cameron Scott and those close to his development about that goal.

Jarrad Drizners (Hagens Berman Axeon) is on the premier development team in the world, a squad that churns out riders for the top level. Drizners won the National Road Series as just a 20-year-old and then had an interrupted year after winning the Under-23 road race. Similar to O'Brien, he's one of those riders that can do a lot of everything and might need to find his niche at the top level, but he's supremely talented.

A sprinter to his core, Jensen Plowright (Team Bridgelane) has the speed, motor and confidence to make it and succeed at the top level. Arguably the most impressive thing about the 20-year-old is how high his ceiling as a rider is - he's already nearly as good as the sprinters mentioned above him, can climb well and has plenty of scope for improvement.

Sprint rivalry heats up with dangerous riding allegations as Plowright wins
Jensen Plowright (Team Bridgelane) was the first rider over the finish line in the Day 2 criterium around the industrial park south of Murwillumbah, but a protest was immediately flagged by ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast and Oliver’s Real Food Racing on the race-winner.
White and Mullens take out the Melbourne to Warrnambool
Nicholas White (Team Bridgelane) was the strongest from a 14-man breakaway that formed mid-way through the race, ultimately winning the 263.2 kilometre men's race in a sprint, with Peta Mullens taking out the women's event back in the peloton.

Nick White (Team Bridgelane) is a rider that deserves a shot at the next level, after producing years of consistent performances. He's won the Under-23 road race, the Melbourne to Warrnambool (probably should have won the Grafton to Inverell in the same year), the Tour of Taiwan and a lot of NRS races.

He's a rider who gets better at the end of long races and packs a mean sprint. He's also seriously tough, he's ridden races with broken bones and shown a lot of resilience to fight his way through other bad periods of illness.

Matthew Rice (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) impressed a few years ago at the Tour of America's Dairylands, where he won a number of stages en route to taking out the overall in the prestigious US criterium series. His best results have been over those distances in the past, but word from his team is that he's more than ready to start winning consistently in road races as well. If you get a chance, watch his sprint to beat Plowright at the Under-23 men's criterium; truly impressive to win comfortably from where he started his final acceleration.

Marcus Culey (Team UKYO), 27, and Brendan Johnston (CCS Canberra), 29, are too old for traditional WorldTour selectors to take much notice of them unless they can force their way by sheer weight of results. It's not impossible, Ben Dyball did it at age 30, but he was coming off the back of a season where he was the best rider in Asia. Culey is a massive diesel engine, a smart rider who would be a great addition to any team, while you could imagine the heights Johnston would be able to reach in races like the classics if he had a full-time gig to dedicate himself to the sport, rather than his current part-time commitment around his electrician business and young family.

Mission Nationals: following Marcus Culey's odyssey
The revelation of the 2020 edition of the men’s National Road Race Championships was Marcus Culey, fighting all day in the break, then surviving when caught by the best riders in the race to battle to the podium. Jamie Finch-Penninger conducted a series of interviews over the months leading into the 2021 Nationals to chart the journey of Culey towards nationals.
Trekky defies big teams to claim NRS overall win
Brendan Johnston (CCS Canberra) resisted the pressure of bigger teams, better climbers and better sprinters to haul himself to an individual National Road Series victory over the nine days of competition in and around the Tweed Valley.

Maybe this year, maybe next

These are riders that still need to do some development, or at least produce the results that they're capable of. Some might have a knock on them in terms of age, role or experience to date but they could all at least be in the minds of top-level selectors with a good series of showings.

Rudy Porter, Carter Turnbull, Tom Benton (all Inform TMX MAKE) all of these guys had great national campaigns. I wouldn't have included Benton on this list last year but that ride for the Under-23 men's race win was special.  Turnbull's the powerhouse, Porter's the climber and Benton has shown he's got plenty of endurance.

Benton wins as Inform TMX MAKE complete famous 1-2-3 in Under 23 mens
Tom Benton soloed to a famous victory in the Under 23 men's road race, with his Inform TMX MAKE teammates Rudy Porter and Carter Turnbull escaping the chasing peloton to claim all the podium positions.
Turnbull cracks national title with Under 23 time trial victory
Carter Turnbull (Inform TMX MAKE) proved the strongest in a sharp test in the men's Under 23 ranks, beating home teammate Conor Leahy and Pat Eddy (Team Bridgelane) to win the time trial at Federation University. Sarah Gigante won the women's Under 23 title as well as the elite title, beating Emily Watts (KOM-Knights) and Anya Louw (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast).

Alex Porter (Australian Cycling Team) is a solid contributor on the road and is part of the track squad which headlined this list but is probably missing that marquee road result at present.

Tyler Lindorff, Ben Metcalfe, Rylee Field (all Team Bridgelane) are all of the quality to go to the top level of the sport, but each has a knock on them. Lindorff has barely been sighted in competition in the past year after an unlucky 2020 summer of cycling. Metcalfe is yet to get that big result and Field, while he has a big win at the New Zealand Cycle Classic, doesn't project as a regular winner. Field would be a top level domestique though, I'd love to see him as the third-last rider in a sprint train for one of the top-tier fast men.

Scott Bowden, 25, showed that that the injuries and illness that have held him back in the past years are gone and he can look to the future with optimism after his third place at nationals. 

Bowden's bronze a triumph over adversity
Scott Bowden has fought his way back from illness, injury and being dropped from his long-term team to the podium in the elite men's national road race.
Final day of men's NRS cancelled due to horrific crash
A horrific crash that saw riders sent to hospital has seen the final day of racing at the men's National Road Series cancelled.

Cooper Sayers, Dylan McKenna and Ben Carman (all Nero Continental) are riders that all have the quality to put together a great series of results to bring themselves to the attention of overseas scouts. Carman is still recovering from the same crash Scott was involved in, but is top-quality. McKenna and Sayers have been very good without winning - if they can convert those promising results into wins, they'll be knocking at the door. 

Liam White (Oliver's Real Food Racing) might be a surprise on the list for some, but he's a rider that has really progressed in recent years, adding to his sprint, trimming a bit of weight and showing up at the end of the hardest races. He won't attract the headlines of brother Nick, but he's a fighter who makes up for his lesser talent with tenacity.

Down the line

These are riders that probably need another year to show that they're ready to make the jump, but they can definitely start laying the foundations for a professional gig with a good season this year. 

Godfrey Slattery (Giant Racing), Conor Leahy, Graeme Frislie (both Inform TMX MAKE), Pat Eddy, Dylan George (both Team Bridgelane), Elliot Schultz, Bailey Walters (both MEIYO-CCN), Dylan Hopkins, Zac Barnhill (both Ljubljana Gusto Santic), Alastair Mackellar (Israel Cycling Academy), Alex Bogna, Zack Gilmore (both ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast), Dylan and Kurt Eather (both Rauland), Lachlan Miller and James Panizza (Balmoral) are all riders that have at least good results to their name in Under-23 or junior level racing with the potential for bigger things if their results improve.

Polites claims brilliant double as George wins in junior road races
Polites claimed the road race-time trial double with a fabulous solo win at in the junior womens national road race, with Dylan George claiming the win in the men's juniors with a sprint from a reduced group to claim victory.
Polites and Miller claim junior time trial titles
Lachlan Miller and Alyssa Polites (Sydney Uni Staminade) claimed the men's and women's junior time trial titles respectively on the opening day of competition in Ballarat.

There's probably been at least one big name that's been missed out here, or some promising youngsters that haven't caused much of a fuss yet at national level on the road.

Let me know in the comments on Twitter! And make sure you take the chance to watch these guys in action in the NRS and in their international racing opportunities.

The women's edition of this article will be out on Friday.