Cycling NSW has secured arrangements with two Dutch development teams which will see the top junior cyclists from the state given the opportunity to race with the teams in Europe.
Three Under-19 (U19) men will be placed with TWC Maaslandster Zuid-Limberg, while on the U19 women’s front, a deal is currently being finalised with the Watersley Race & Development Cycling Team. Cycling NSW will make a $1,500 contribution towards each rider’s trip.
It's hoped that the carrot of a prize of a genuine development opportunity being up for grabs will drive more participation in local events, with the highest point-getters from the Rauland U19 Series going on to secure the spots. The marriage of the two is the result of promotion of U19 cycling by Cycling NSW CEO Graham Seers and some chance connections with the Dutch racing scene.
"When I came back to Australia, I looked at the history of NSW in this area," said Seers, in conversation with SBS Cycling Central. "We had consistently won the Under 15 and U17 national champions' shield and then when it came to our U19 state championships we'd have three or four riders racing. So why are they no longer continuing in the U19 division and what do we need to do was my starting point.
"Creating U19 events specifically has helped and we've gone up to 20 starters in the males and 10-12 in the females in the U19s."
The development of young Australian cyclists has typically seen young athletes put into track-focused preparations, but this program focuses more on the nurturing of road athletes and those that haven't made the early cuts for the Australian Cycling Team Podium Potential Academy.
"We've worked on the things the High-Performance Unit wants; data, high wattage outputs, but also to have those riders who don't develop until later life given opportunities and the chance to challenge themselves," said Seers. "We've sent riders (in recent years) to Korea, New Zealand, and the Netherlands. It's about ensuring that New South Wales riders appreciate what that next level is.
"The beauty of the Netherlands, well Belgium as well, is that they have a lot of U19-only races. So racing amongst their peers, how to race at a different level. Our U19s are good, but we don't have the events with the quantity."
Cycling NSW is in the process of moving into AusCycling, a process that should be finalised in the coming months, but the funding for the youth development path is committed for three seasons at present, with Seers hopeful that the model is adopted more widely.
"I'd like to think that the AusCycling organisation would look at this as something that can be implemented in any state, giving opportunity for U19s," said Seers. "My plan on returning (to the role as Cycling NSW CEO), which has been affected by COVID, was to create a national U19 series to get those riders the chance to race each other as they do at U17 and U15 levels."
The Dutch side of the program is looking forward to welcoming Australian riders to their programs with Stan Bertram, head of the TWC Maaslandster Zuid-Limberg team enthusiastic about the prospect.
"It's great to have Australian riders coming here," said Bertram, "not just because they'll be able to develop but also so they can bring that level over to our guys that are currently here."
The shift in recent years to a more scientifically driven approach to numbers in training has seen cyclists become educated at younger and younger ages as to what sort of training they need to be doing on a regular basis, but there are still important lessons to be learned as a developing rider.
"Riders are already more interested in training with a heart-rate monitor, with power meters, whereas 10 years ago it wasn't on the table," said Bertram. "Riders are more educated in these things. Of course, we still do these things, but where we can teach them the most is in race tactics. Something we're a big expert here in the Netherlands in racing in echelons, it doesn't happen in every race, but when it does, it is always Dutch riders up the front."
The program of racing offers more than just the flatland echelons, with racing in Belgium and Luxembourg on the agenda.
"Well, we can talk about the normal season versus the current corona season, we're seeing a lot of races being cancelled," said Bertram of what the season might look like. "In a normal year, it will be a mixture of Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg races.
"In the Netherlands, it's mostly going to be racing on the flat with the wind and the echelons. In Belgium, it's the cobbles and short, steep climbs. Then if you look at races that we've signed up for in Luxembourg, it's races with longer climbs. The mix of that will give them a good view of what racing in Europe will be like."
Another plus to the arrangement is the recent announcement of the connection between premier WorldTour squad Jumbo-Visma and the TWC Maaslandster Zuid-Limberg set-up, the first association to join in the Jumbo-Visma led movement.
"We're actually the first team that has connected to them as a partner team and that gives us a lot of opportunities," said Bertram. "Doors are open if you're in touch with a team like that. We'll have access to the networking side of things like equipment suppliers but also on the coaching side. The head of nutrition will be connected and helping us with what's best for our riders to eat, it's really great to have that access."
The proposed women's team has yet to finalise their deal with Cycling NSW, but it is understood by SBS Cycling Central that a deal is very close. The Watersley Race & Development Cycling Team promoted four riders to UCI Continental level last from their U19 and U23 teams and are managed by former professional rider Huub Duijn.
While it might be a while until the Under 19 riders you see racing in Wagga and Broke get their chance to connect with a big WorldTour team like Jumbo-Visma, the announced program is taking cycling development for young road riders in a positive direction.