Strong Aussie contingent to take on the world in Tour Down Under

Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

The sight of Miles Scotson attacking inside the final two kilometres of his first professional road race, at the Australian national championships at Buninyong, Victoria, last Sunday week, was impressive for more than the fact it led him winning the title.

Scotson's move as he smoked breathtakingly close by the right of his rivals in a 14-strong lead group on the run to the finish of a tough 10.2km race circuit that the field completed 18 times to cover 183.6km smacked of the street smarts of the most seasoned of professional riders he was racing against -- riders who were up to 14 years his elder -- rather than of the new professional he was. Add to that, Scotson, 22 and in his first year of two on the US-registered BMC Racing World Tour team, was also racing the event without any teammates.

"I thought a top five or a podium in the road race would be great but then I like to roll the dice sometimes," Scotson said after beating Simon Gerrans (Orica-Scott), 36, and Nathan Haas (Dimension Data), 27, into second and third respectively in what many rated as the best ever Australian title finale.

"I could have finished first or I could have finished last, but I had good legs when I went and I went really hard and opened up a big gap. I was still moving well over the last kilometre. That kind of effort over 1.5-2km really suited me."

All in all, the national road race championship at Buninyong served to showcase the growing depth of Australia's up-and-coming elite male professionals. And a number of those young riders -- Scotson included -- will now race in the first World Tour event of the year, the six-day Tour Down Under in South Australia that starts on Tuesday. The performance of another World Tour rookie, Brendan Canty, 24, of the Cannondale-Drapac team, was equally as impressive as that of Scotson; a former runner, Canty finished seventh in the national title race and in the same group as Scotson.

Canty more or less produced a race-winning move with a solo attack on the main climb that saw him solo across the finish line in front, pumping his fist in what he believed was in triumph; alas his move was premature, as he realised when the bell rang to denote there was still one lap to go.

Canty's move nevertheless showed much of what he is about: A rider unafraid to put his climbing prowess to work, attack and drive his effort all the way to the finish line -- or what he thought was the finish line. That Canty, like Scotson, shunned any sense of being daunted in such company, and executed his move as he did, proved he has it to be a finisher.

The same can be said of many other young riders in the men's elite road race, such as Lachlan Morton, 24, and Ben O'Connor, 21, of the Dimension Data. Ditto for the riders in the men's Under-23 race won by 19-year-old Sam Jenner of NSW, who will also race the Tour Down Under. Jenner is on the Uni SA-Australia team with other emerging talents such as Scotson's younger brother, Callum Scotson, 20, the national men's Under-23 time-trial champion who is on the BMC development team; Lucas Hamilton, 20; Jai Hindley, 20; and Michael Storer, 19. They will be joined by the far more experienced Cameron Meyer, 29, and Nathan Earle, 28, who have both shown rejuvenated racing form, and, if Tour Down Under traditional continues, the Uni SA-Australia team is likely to leave a mark as a team against its peers by week's end.

There is plenty of optimism for what the young Australian riders in the peloton may all produce in South Australia this week. But their efforts at Buninyong further augur well for what might be expected from Australia's top road riders in the years to come. There may be only 26 Australians on the 18 first-division UCI World Tour teams this season, and nine on the 22 second-division Pro-Continental teams, but the emergence of more young talent will hopefully see those numbers grow; and the signs are that they will continue to perform on many fronts, on all terrain and in many roles, as the Australians do now.

Today Australia has all-rounders and climbers such as Scotson's teammate and Tour Down Under favourite Richie Porte, who now rates among the top contenders for the Tour de France.

There are developing wingmen for the grand tour stars in the mountains, such as Damien Howson, who proved as much in the past two Vueltas a Espana and the 2016 Giro d'Italia by playing crucial roles for Orica-Scott grand tour leader Esteban Chaves when it really mattered.

There are sprinters such as Caleb Ewan of Orica-Scott; lead-out riders such as Mark Renshaw of Dimension Data, who has catapulted star British flyer Mark Cavendish to so many victories; time-trial experts such Rohan Dennis of BMC, who also has his eyes on developing into a grand tour contender like Porte; one day classic 'hard nuts' such as Orica-Scott's Simon Gerrans, who won Milan San Remo in 2012 and Liége-Bastogne-Liége in 2014, and teammate Mat Hayman, who won the cobblestoned Paris-Roubaix 'monument' last season on his 15th try; versatile riders like grand tour stage winner Michael Matthews, who can win races in sprints or on the hillier one-day courses; and world-class 'domestiques', the helpers like Lotto-Soudal's Adam Hansen, Movistar's Rory Sutherland, Orica-Scott's Luke Durbridge and Bora-Hansgrohe's Jay McCarthy. Many of of the latter can -- or have already shown that they can -- win races themselves when the chance arrives, as McCarthy hopes to do again at the Tour Down Under; McCartky placed fourth overall and won a stage last year, and this week he will enjoy the added 'royal' services of his team's star Slovakian team leader, the two-time and current world road champion Peter Sagan.

Then Australia also has prospects such Robert Power, a budding all-rounder with Orica-Scott who will be a centre of big interest in 2017 as he is re-booting his career after his debut professional season last year was cruelled by a rare form of bone marrow oedema in the knee.

The state of promise belies the parlous state of Cycling Australia that is struggling in the post-Olympic year for stakeholder support from grass roots to elite levels due to myriad issues -- from its continuing financial woes to concerns for athlete funding, the federation's connect with clubs, the direction of the National Road Series, uncertainty over the appointment of a new CA president and high-performance director, and uncertainty regarding the location the national road titles with the Ballarat/Buninyong deal at an end.

But as answers to those questions are still being found, there is enough to suggest that the nation's male professional riders have enough talent between them to give the sport in Australia the oxygen it needs to continue its popularity - the biggest previous boost for which came when the now retired Cadel Evans, in 2011, recorded the first ever victory by an Australian in the biggest race of all, the Tour de France.