Any fears that Australian cycling's talent cabinet is running thin have been thrown out the window in the first few weeks of January, writes Al Hinds.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

With Australia's only Tour de France champion Cadel Evans no longer a spring chicken, three-time maillot vert winner Robbie McEwen retiring, and Stuart O'Grady soon to be staring at 40 birthday candles, cycling Down Under is facing a generational shift.

But while the legends that have lit up our television screens for more than a decade will soon be (and are already) hanging up the bike, there's no reason to sweat. Certainly not with the likes of Shara Gillow (25) Luke Durbridge (21) Calvin Watson (20) Caleb Ewan (18) and Melissa Hoskins (21) who between them, have won every event this year.

From the Mitchelton Bay Criterium Series to the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, and now to the Mars Cycling Australia Road National Championships the Gen Y'ers have stood up, men and women alike.

It's an exciting time for cycling in this country. Australia will have more than 30 WorldTour professionals in 2013, and that number is only likely to increase as more of the coming generation graduate to the professional ranks.

Such is the depth of Australia's development programs, Sun Tour champion Watson missed out on a place with the new 'WorldTour Academy', despite being a 2012 AIS member. That news may have come as a devastating blow for the Victorian, but the silver lining for cycling in Australia is a previously unknown luxury of being able to turn riders of the calibre of Watson away. The level is getting higher, the competition more fierce, and the production line longer. Bradley Linfield, Campbell Flakemore, Damien Howson, Adam Phelan, Luke Davison, Alex Morgan, but to name a few in the pipeline.

The pace of development has accelerated as well. Riders are going professional earlier. Jay McCarthy will ride with Saxo-Tinkoff this year at the tender age of 20. Another 20-year-old, Lachlan Morton is also stepping up with Garmin-Sharp.

Youth is clearly no barrier to being pro, nor for that matter, are results beyond reach. Luke Durbridge won his second time trial title on Wednesday in Lake Wendouree, he was also the youngest starter in the elite men's field at 21. He didn't fluke the title either.

He rode the course masterfully, clocking a 51.1 km/h average speed, world class in anyone's book. Australia's answer to Fabian Cancellara? Why not? To say nothing of the guys that finished in second, third and fourth; Rohan Dennis (22), Michael Matthews (22) and Richie Porte (27). Or the younger guys that will be eyeing Sunday's road race; Cameron Meyer (24), Matt Goss (26), or Nathan Haas (23).

Perhaps the most hype surrounds the youngest, Caleb Ewan. The Sydneysider starred earlier this month at Bay Crits for the second year in a row, and for the first time took the series title, writing himself into the history books as the youngest ever series winner. Ironically the only thing stopping Ewan from taking on a Santos Tour Down Under start is his age. Selectors have forced the 18-year-old to have a sojourn during the first WorldTour race of the year, cautious of over-stretching the youngster.

That's understandable, but wouldn't it have been nice to see Ewan lining up against the world's best? Not that it's a prospect we will be denied in the future I'm sure.

Of course, there's plenty to celebrate about the careers of those that have come before, and to be fair to Cadel Evans and Stuart O'Grady, I'm in no way suggesting that their time is up. Both have a few more good years in them. They are class acts, and big shoes for anyone to fill.

But while they will be missed when they do inevitably call it a day, there's a lot to like about the next generation. Australia's cycling future is in good hands.