Rory Sutherland was not long retired from professional cycling when he took up the role as elite road coordinator within the Australian Cycling Team, and now he's in his first race management role at the 2021 road world championships in Flanders.
With COVID restrictions hampering Australia more than other countries and on a course where other countries will be going in as the favourites, Sutherland sat down with SBS to talk about what the approach has been for the world championships this year.
“With the COVID situation in the world and Australia being so far away, it has created complications for this world championships, particularly with the juniors not being able to participate," said Sutherland. "That really breaks my heart, because it’s how I got into racing. My first exposure to racing in Europe was the world championships in Plouay.
"By getting a result there, it got me in the door with a team for the future. It’s unfortunate for the juniors for sure.”
The juniors that would have gone to worlds are instead slated for a training camp in Bright later in the year, but they are not the only Australians missing from the team, with no elite time triallists set to compete in either the men's or women's events.
“Normally we have a few more riders than this year," said Sutherland. "Firstly, with the Under 23s not going last year, it was really important that they got a chance to participate, develop and be a part of the Australian team at these events.
"For the men and the women it’s different because unfortunately we’ve had a lot of injuries with some of our best time triallists who were at the Olympics this year. They’re either injured or they’ve decided not to participate this year for their own personal reasons, so that reduces the amount of riders that we have access to putting in the event this year.”
Sutherland referred obliquely to Grace Brown's shoulder injury and subsequent surgery that put her out of the rest of the season, with Sarah Gigante out with illness and Rohan Dennis starting his offseason after the Tour of Britain. That means the Under 23 men will fly the flag along for Australia in the race against the clock, Lucas Plapp and Carter Turnbull both possible medal chances in the race on Monday evening AEST.
"We hope to see something great from our Under 23 riders," said Sutherland."We don’t know where they’re going to end up… I want to see them enjoy themselves and have the opportunity to race against the best in the world."
The road races shape as an intriguing battle for the attackers, with an undulating course with some cobbled climbs and narrow roads that should spark some aggressive racing.
"I think the beauty of the circuit this year is that it isn’t really comparable to other races," said Sutherland. "Whoever designed the course this year did a really good job making it exciting, good for the viewers, exciting for the riders that will give us the best world champion.
"It is a really good parcours for the Australian riders. The men, women and the Under 23. We have a good group of experienced riders in both men's and women's and also a young group coming through that I’m really excited to see as part of the team here."
The likes of Harry Sweeny, Robert Stannard and Miles Scotson will be racing their first elite world championships in the men's, while Lauretta Hanson will be making her debut in the women's squad.
Watch all the action from the 2021 UCI Road World Championships on SBS VICELAND and SBS OnDemand from September 19-26! The Elite Men's time trial will be shown on Sunday, September 19 from 2210 AEST to kick off the action on SBS OnDemand.