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 National Road Series (NRS) calendar looks like it will be run, there are precious few opportunities for overseas racing for Australia's young top talents, nor is there the women's development team that has existed in past years.
This list doesn't really take into account those issues, it's done assuming that riders will get their chance to show their best ability. It also includes Roxsolt Liv SRAM riders, they are UCI-registered and do get some really big race starts, but when that will happen next is a big unknown, and it would be a step up for their riders to be regularly riding in UCI Women's WorldTour races.
The dead certainties
Ruby Roseman-Gannon (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) is the only one that fits in this category at present in the Australian peloton. She can sprint with the best, climb only just below the best and is very focused on gaining any benefit possible from racing tactically astutely. She's a hard trainer and wouldn't be out of place at the top level already, we've seen that when she's squared of against the likes of Sarah Gigante, Chloe Hosking and co.
There's also potential for further development, at just 22, she's still learning the more nuanced aspects of racing on the road, we've seen that she's missed a few opportunities at the win where she's been the fastest sprinter present, perhaps most notably where she missed the jump behind Peta Mullens on the Santos Festival of Cycling opening stage.
They are ready
There are a lot of riders that I'd want to see given a shot at the next level, if only to see how they can adapt to a consistently high level of competition, rather than compete with the handful of riders at their level in Australia.
Nicole Frain (Sydney Uni-Staminade) has emerged in recent years within the NRS as a determined rider who fights her way up climbs in the wake of some of the best riders Australia has produced. She's emerging as a race-winner in her own right now and she'll be more of a regular victor in the NRS without riders like Gigante present, especially as she possesses a decent sprint from a small group.
With Annette Edmondson announcing that she's looking to move on from cycling after the Olympics the chief candidates from the Olympic track endurance team are Alex Manly, Maeve Plouffe, Georgia Baker and Ashlee Ankudinoff. Of course, they are already professionals on the track, this is about their road careers however.
Manly used to ride in the WorldTour with BikeExchange, she's looking to be back to near her best form at the Australian nationals after taking time off from the road. She raced as a guest rider with the Team BikeExchange squad at the Tour Down Under replacement event, the Festival of Cycling and maybe she could be on her way back to the Australian team after the Olympics.
Maeve Plouffe also races for ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast on the road, and she's had a lot of experience on the track and road despite only being 21 years old. She's an interesting rider, with some exceptional two-minute power, but maybe without quite that closing sprint that's needed to win bunch kicks at the top level. That's only at the moment however, there's certainly plenty of scope for development, though she's also studying law, so no doubt that's taking up plenty of time.
Georgia Baker and Ashlee Ankudinoff are more unlikely but there's little reason why either couldn't play a role in a bigger team in Europe. Baker's been at that level before in limited roles that she's fitted around track goals, but Ankudinoff hasn't had a shot there yet. Both are accomplished sprinters on the road and track, good enough to take results in big races.
Emily Watts (KOM-Knights) is just off the biggest result of her career, winning the Under 23 title in the nationals road race with a gutsy ride to jump clear of a dawdling peloton and drive her group clear to the line ahead of Gigante and Neve Bradbury (Canyon-SRAM). She's incredibly enthusiastic, a very dedicated trainer, and a vibrant social media presence.
Jaime Gunning (Specialized Women's Racing) came into nationals with a light racing preparation, but had apparently been training the house down. She didn't really show that in the road race, well at least not up to expectations we've had after great showings at the Herald Sun Tour, Tour Down Under and NRS events in the past. She's a rider who would really benefit from being regularly exposed to a higher level of competition, her progress had been great up until the beginning of 2020.
Justine Barrow and Peta Mullens aren't really part of this list, as co-owners of Roxsolt Liv SRAM with team founder Kelvin Rundle I wouldn't expect them to be going anywhere. They do have the quality, it's worth referencing that Barrow regularly beats all the above-mentioned climbers in the NRS and Mullens is one of the most experienced and competent riders around.
Emily Herfoss (Roxsolt Liv SRAM) is a rider who probably have been picked up by a top team last year, after a strong series of performances during the Australian summer, but unfortunately, she filled up the positions of the podium and wasn't on top for any of the big races. She won the 2019 National Road Series, but after the 2020 summer, she hasn't competed at a national level and is now taking time off to have a child.
Maybe this year, maybe next
The best non-UCI team in Australia is Specialized Women's Racing and they are packed with a lot of riders who can wins races on their day and perhaps with a good run of results can force their way into a top squad.
Matilda Raynolds is probably foremost amongst those riders, she used to be a big sprinter, one for the attritional races as well, but she's added a lot of climbing ability in recent years and can now stick with really good ascenders over those short climbs. She would have been the favourite out of that breakaway in the road race if she hadn't crashed hard and separated her AC joint during the criterium, a really unfortunate piece of bad luck in what would have been a great situation otherwise.
Dani De Francesco (Specialized) is a professional triathlete and former open-water swimmer who has shown a lot of potential since focusing on the bike more regularly. Whether she can turn her good results into wins is the question, also if she sticks with the sport more seriously or migrates back to triathlon as the world opens up.
Holly Harris, Laura Luxford and Elizabeth Stannard (all Specialized) have showcased good form over the past few months. Luxford is a bit older, but Harris and Stannard are progressing nicely through the ranks, popping up with a few nice performances here and there as well in good competition.
Amber Pate (SASI) seems to have tried her hand at every cycling discipline under the sun and now she's hitting her stride on the road. Fourth at nationals was a great result and she was also impressive at the Festival of Cycling. If she can continue her strong form of the past months, a lot of people are going to watching Pate's trajectory to the top level.
Anya Louw (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) was one of Gigante's big rivals at junior level, but it's no insult to say that she hasn't matched the Victorian's unprecedented early career. Louw consistently does the right things in bike races, she works hard as a teammate, puts in smart attacks and rides good position. Her development has been coming along steadily, she's maybe more a 2023 possibility than 2022, but she looks like she'll be a very good rider.
Francesca Sewell (Roxsolt Liv SRAM) had a bit of hype around her coming into her final year of juniors and unfortunately, 2020 wasn't a great time for her to capitalise on that. As a first year elite, she hasn't had much of a chance to showcase her abilities yet but she has a good attitude towards racing and couldn't be on a better squad to develop.
Alana Forster has been a bit of a sensation in recent seasons for her attacking riding style, often hitting out in solo breakaways and getting surprisingly close to winning races despite the near-impossible attacks. The doctor from Canberra has been making leaps and bounds in her level in recent times, she actually has an overseas ride with AWOL O'Shea in 2021, but certainly in the short-term she'll be racing locally.
Georgia Whitehouse (Sydney Uni-Staminade) had her early cycling career derailed by a serious car crash and when she exploded back onto the national scene with a series of very impressive performances, particularly in the sprints, it appeared that the Sydneysider was set for a berth at the top level. She cooled off from those initial highs and has appeared to be on a bit more of a track focus recently with gold medals at the track national championships in the individual pursuit and team pursuit.
Down the line
I don't like focusing too much on the junior level athletes, there's not much to be gained by putting pressure on riders at that early age but after the rapid rise of riders like Gigante and Neve Bradbury (Canyon-SRAM) it's clearly worth mentioning some riders to keep an eye on.
Alyssa Polites (Sydney Uni-Staminade) is one of these super enthusiastic young riders coming through the system who appears to just be cycling for the love of the sport. Which isn't to say that she doesn't win bike races, she's cleaned up the last few years at nationals in the juniors and is the current Australian record-holder in the 2,000-metre individual pursuit.
Haylee Fuller (Sydney Uni-Staminade) and Lucy Stewart were both impressive at the recent national championships, Stewart in particular wasn't a rider I was familiar with, but her aggressive style of racing saw her take out the junior women's criterium title and impress in other events.
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.
Check out the men's article as well!