The surprising thing about the Under-23 World Time Trial Championships

Tom Palmer Columnist

By , Tom Palmer is a Roar Expert

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    The Under-23 World Time Trial Championships threw up some surprising developments, and some unsurprising ones.

    The unsurprising development was that Campbell Flakemore won. The likeable Tasmanian has had an impressively linear progression in the discipline. Just four weeks prior he showed his class and versatility bagging a victory in the prologue at the Tour de l’Avenir.

    So far he isn’t signed with a professional team, but in my experience of racing with the guy, he would be a valuable addition to any.

    Surprising was that in a field of 63 riders, the Australian team only bothered to field one competitor, despite having qualified three spots.

    According to UCI policy, which is available from the UCI website, every nation is entitled to enter four riders of which two may compete. As well as these two automatic spots, an additional spot is awarded to the current Oceania Champion.

    That Oceania Champion is an Australian. Harry Carpenter is a very promising rider who took out the event earlier this year. Carpenter represented Australia in a time trial less than 10 days before the worlds, just over the border in France at Chrono Champenois. There’s no doubt he was on hand to take up his spot at the worlds in Spain.

    Cycling Australia’s official selection criteria document makes room for denying eligible riders a ride. It says: “Cycling Australia (CA) reserves the right to not fill UCI quotas.” But the question remains why did it block riders in this case?

    Our national team has sufficient funding and resources on hand to field ten riders and frankly we probably have enough talented candidates to field twenty. So why couldn’t we let at least two have a crack?

    The current Australian Champion in the event is Drapac Pro Cycling’s Jordan Kerby. At the Chrono Champenois – the traditional final preparation race for the worlds – Flakemore was third and 38 seconds off the winner. Kerby was ninth – 1 minute and 12 seconds behind him.

    So our U23 Australian and Oceania time trial champions were both down the road, ready to go, and they weren’t awarded a start. If there was some secret reason that Kerby and Carpenter were both unsuitable for the competition, why was no one appointed to fill the remaining spot? At least four riders should have been entered after all.

    The modern Under 23 Men category ended the old ‘pro/amateur’ distinction. Its general intention is to be a platform that draws attention and opportunity to developing riders.

    The Australian Under 23 High Performance Unit claims to be constituted for a similar purpose: the active development of Australia’s talent.

    One might ask then, what good it does to the development of our young cyclists, to deny them an opportunity to experience the highest level of the sport’s competition? What good does it do to deny riders the opportunity to display their talent to the higher powers of cycling, or to hone their abilities in the top echelon of competition?

    Last year at the worlds, Aussie Damien Howson won. In fourth was none other than Campbell Flakemore, who no doubt gained invaluable experience that lead in part to his win this year.

    The year before that in 2012 was the same story when Howson himself was third and behind an Aussie teammate no less, in Rohan Dennis.

    Going back another year, both the Australians selected were on the podium too. Luke Durbridge won and Michael Hepburn took third despite a crash en-route. It goes on.

    It seems unlikely that after taking out five of the nine medals offered in the last three years we suddenly were unable to field more than one rider who would not embarrass themselves or the nation. Given the history, it is less far fetched to assume the idea was to go easy on our competitor nations.

    These blatantly questionable selections leave me wondering whether we are looking at good old-fashioned, wrongheaded, incompetence or if there is something even more ugly at play behind the scenes.

    In any case, it appears the biggest thing holding Australian U23 men back from the podium at the world time trial championships is the selection panel.

    Tom Palmer is a former professional road cyclist riding for Drapac Professional Cycling from 2007 to 2014 before hanging up the cleats to pursue a tertiary education and non-sporting career.