The primary reason for riders to be on the team is exposure, teams from the WorldTour will see them race in the flesh and there are plenty of team bosses watching the television coverage. It is a place to either launch or reinvigorate a career.
This season marks a significant divergence from the normal selection policy with four riders selected for the team before the national championships. In part, it is a reflection of the incredible depth of talent that is currently at the under 23 level.
Three are from the WorldTour academy; Lucas Hamilton, Jai Hindley and Michael Storer. All showed significant talent last year in races like the Tour de l’Avenir and the Italian hilly classics, especially impressive given all three were in their first season with the WorldTour Academy.
Callum Scotson (BMC Development) rounds out the quartet, the two-time under 23 national time trial champion and Olympic pursuiter is still a very raw talent in road terms. He has a tonne of power but is yet to really apply that effectively to race situations and he can be caught out when others surge and attack.
Scotson is the rider that may gain the most from this experience, a rider of his calibre doesn’t necessarily learn too much from racing against his peers as he is simply stronger, covering weaknesses in other areas. Here he won’t be able to rely on being better and will instead have to pick up a few tricks of the trade.
Cameron Meyer is the headline name of the team and he was an unannounced pick before his nationals performance. After quitting Dimension Data mid-season, saying that he’d lost passion for the sport, he came back as strong as ever on the track in the London Six-day event and was apparently sitting on some very nice form before nationals.
He goes into the UniSA-Australia squad with the distinction of having won the event before in 2011, the win that really announced him on the world stage. But some commenters have claimed that Meyer shouldn’t be afforded a spot given he’s already had his shot in the WorldTour and walked away.
However, given his riding and form since leaving Dimension Data, it appears that he is back and means business and perhaps should be cut some slack.
The two riders added post nationals were Nathan Earle (Team Ukyo) and Sam Jenner. Earle came into nationals bullish about his chances and did his selection shot no harm with an aggressive performance, trying a similar move to the one which netted Miles Scotson (BMC) victory in the final kilometres.
Arguably his move softened up the group for the winning Scotson attack or we may instead be talking about another Simon Gerrans (Orica-Scott) win.
His signing with Japanese squad Team Ukyo was out of the blue and there must have been a stage where Earle thought of quitting the sport altogether. It is a long way from the heady days at Team Sky to a Japanese Continental team.
Earle has both said and shown that he is in career best form and he’ll get an opportunity to again show his wares on the WorldTour stage.
Sam Jenner was the revelation of the national championships. His contract hadn’t been renewed for the World Tour Academy and he went into the time trial and road race with a lot of pressure on his shoulders to show he deserved a recall. A solid time trial was followed by the stunning solo move in the final laps of the under 23 road race, holding off a very strong bunch of chasers to win.
Out of all the WorldTour Academy riders to go to Europe last year, Jenner has perhaps taken the most improvement from it and fully deserves his position in the team.
THE MEN WHO MISSED OUT
Cam Bayly (IsoWhey SwissWellness) is the obvious missing man, he was fourth at the nationals and a rider that has been knocking at the door for a long time. He is one of the most consistent riders in Asian UCI races and was agonisingly close to a breakthrough win at the Tour of Taihu Lake at the end of last year. He should still get his shot down the line but many will think that the opportunity should have been provided more immediately.
Ben Dyball (St George Continental) is another who should have been recognised for his standout talent a long time ago. He is one of the best climbers and time triallists in Australia but team bosses and scouts seem more content to find flaws in the New South Welshman’s career than give him credit for his ability. He was third in the time trial and thirteenth in the road race, where he produced a herculean effort to bridge from the peloton to the break and then hung on to finish in the front group.
In fairness to the selectors, Dyball wouldn’t be superbly suited to the Tour Down Under but he will ride the Herald Sun Tour with his team, where he should perform. But at 27 he is running out of opportunities to impress.
Alex Porter was arguably the best under 23 rider in the national championships this year. He won the criterium, was second in the road race and finished fourth in the time trial. Very few riders even compete in the three events because of the difference in efforts required and the accumulated fatigue from competing in all three. He came into nationals with a reputation as a big-bodied track rider but he shed that with a commendable series of performances.
He showed in the National Road Series during the Tour of King Valley that he has good positioning skills and can handle rough racing conditions. He wouldn’t be far off the pace in the WorldTour and would acquit himself well.
The biggest class of riders that missed out on selection were the sprinters. Steele Von Hoff, Brenton Jones (JLT Condor), Jesse Kerrision and Scott Sunderland (both IsoWhey SwissWellness) could well have been starters, but the squad set up would have left them without effective lead-out support. As a sprinter, it is hard to impress going against WorldTour trains and it makes sense to avoid bunch kicks to the line in the composition of the squad.
There were a number of roads the selectors could have taken in assembling the squad but they have nonetheless delivered an exciting, balanced squad for the 2017 edition of the Santos Tour Down Under with several young riders who will be the household names of the future.