Generational change at the Worlds
Jack Bobridge, left, leads the Australian men's Team Pursuit team. AP Photo/Alastair Grant
It has been a long time since an Australian road cycling team hasn’t included the names of Evans, O’Grady or Rogers.
While illness and injury has played its part, it was inevitable that the old guard would eventually have to yield their places to the new kids on the block.
The generation that followed in Phil Anderson’s footsteps are growing old and a quick glance at the elite men’s team that will take on the world in The Netherlands this Sunday afternoon confirms that the ‘oldies’ are on borrowed time.
It is a good team despite the absences – and it will only get better for the experience.
While the selectors’ hands were forced somewhat due to the unavailability of Evans and Rogers, it was good to see lesser known riders rewarded for the hard work and effort they have put in over the years. Riders such as David Tanner and Wes Sulzberger are thrilled with their inclusion and viewers can expect nothing less than a gut busting performance from both of them.
The selectors also need to be given a pat on the back for looking beyond Orica-GreenEDGE. While Richie Porte (Sky) was always going to be a walk up start, Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol), Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Sharp), Michael Matthews (Rabobank) and Tanner (Saxo-Tinkoff) would have been less sure of selection than their Orica-GreenEDGE counterparts.
The trade team has four Australian representatives in the race (Simon Gerrans, Allan Davis, Simon Clarke and Sulzberger), which is one more than expected after Sulzberger was brought in to replace an ailing Rogers.
It is an indication of the depth of Australian cycling that the national team is not just a facsimile of Orica-GreenEDGE.
With so much talent scattered around the pro-teams, it was perhaps surprising that Rory Sutherland was included on the initial ‘long list’ of contenders for the national team. Sutherland races for pro-continental team United Healthcare and, although almost the forgotten man of Australian cycling, has been one of the superstars of the North American road circuit. Obviously his gutsy win on Flagstaff Hill at the recently completed USA Pro Cycling Challenge did not go unnoticed.
That the selectors were willing to look outside the World Tour for potential candidates shows a refreshing approach to team selection. Had Sutherland made the final cut he would have been both deserving of his place and capable of holding his own.
Jack Bobridge is a notable absence from this year’s worlds. The South Australian has devoted much of his season to the track, seeking elusive Olympic glory, but will no doubt be back in our national road team next year. He is a capable time trialist and could yet be anything on the road.
With McEwen already retired, O’Grady pushing 40 years of age and Evans and Rogers entering the twilight of their careers, Bobridge’s inclusion will be just another step towards complete generational change at the top level of our sport.
There is a feeling though, that Bobridge is at the crossroads of his still fledgling career. For quite some time, the word around the traps has been that he doesn’t look after himself off the bike as well as he might. His recent drink driving misdemeanour does nothing to dispel this perception, and his unexpected departure from Orica-GreenEDGE for personal reasons, suggests all is not well in the Bobridge camp.
His move to Rabobank however should be a positive one. It is a stable team, boasts a handful of Aussies, and should provide a solid base from which Bobridge can further develop his craft. A new start might be just what he needs.
While the atmosphere on Cauberg Hill for the finale of this year’s world road championships will be electric, expect the opposite for the 2016 event. The UCI has confirmed that Qatar will host the race for the rainbow jersey, and if the early season Tour of Qatar is anything to go by, spectators and atmosphere will be minimal.
Tom Boonan has dominated the Tour of Qatar since its inception 10 years ago and sprinters usually dominate the general classification. But, unless the world’s circuit is held completely within the city of Doha, the race could be blown apart by wind. Echelons are common on the wide open roads across the desert and frantic racing could result.
It’s a shame that hardly anybody will be there to witness it. It seems Middle Eastern money is more important than cycling’s passionate fan-base. Nice one UCI… again.
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