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State of the Nation: Analysing Australia's men's 2021 World Championships team

Australian team with Michael Matthews centre at the front of the peloton at the UCI Road World Championships in 2020
Australian team with Michael Matthews centre at the front of the peloton at the UCI Road World Championships in 2020 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Ahead of the 2021 UCI Road World Championships, Cyclingnews is taking a deep dive into the key teams for the elite road races. We've looked at the men's teams from the United States and Great Britain, now it is time for Australia.

History

Cadel Evans became the first Australian to win the elite men’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships in 2009, delivering an emotion-filled victory celebration after he attacked from the break to come across the finish line in Mendrisio solo. 

Australia has also stepped onto the lower steps of the podium in the elite category a number of times since the turn of the century, most recently with Michael Matthews who came third in 2017 and second in 2015. Matthews also had success in U23's, claiming the jersey in his home nation, when the World Championships were held in Geelong in 2010.

The most recent Australian rider on the U23 podium of the road race was Caleb Ewan, who came second in 2014. He is also Australia’s most recent podium placer in the men’s junior race, claiming silver in 2012.

Line-up

  • Michael Matthews
  • Caleb Ewan
  • Luke Durbridge
  • Miles Scotson
  • Nick Schultz
  • Harry Sweeny
  • Robert Stannard
  • Nathan Haas

Key Riders

Tour de France 2021 108th Edition 6th stage Tours Chateauroux 1604 km 01072021 Michael Matthews AUS Team Bikeexchange photo Luca BettiniBettiniPhoto2021

Michael Matthews, who has twice stepped onto the podium of the elite men's road race for Australia at the Road World Championships (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

In the elite men’s race Australia is one of the ten teams that has qualified for eight riders, delivering a strong squad to support Michael Matthews and Caleb Ewan.

Matthews has a powerful record of delivering top placings at Worlds, having taken to the podium twice in the elite category and delivering the U23 win. Last year he took a dual leadership role alongside Richie Porte on the climb heavy course and was the top Australian finisher, coming over the line in seventh place.

The 30-year-old's ability to deliver a fast finish after making it over ascents that are tough enough to rule out many sprinters, means this year's course plays to his strengths. The season so far, though, has been far from one of his best as while Matthews has often been near the front of the field he is yet to throw his arms in the air to celebrate a victory.

Ewan, on the other hand, has had more than his share of sprint victories. 

He entered the year with the goal to win at least one stage across every Grand Tour. That aim was derailed by a high speed crash as he sprinted toward the finish line of stage 3 of the Tour de France. The displaced complex fracture of his right collarbone put him out of action for nearly two months, meaning the Lotto Soudal rider's racing in the second part of the season has been limited. Still, he has shown that the speed is still there with a win on stage 5 of the Benelux Tour earlier this month. 

While the climbs on the course makes it seem questionable a bunch sprint specialist like Ewan can be in the running at the end, he has surprised with the ability to survive through some other tough courses this season. Ewan was an unexpected figure holding a position near the front on the explosive climb of the Poggio at Milan-San Remo, where he finished second, and he took an unexpected second stage victory at the Baloise Belgium Tour on the hilly stage 4

Strengths

Australia is lining up in the elite men’s road race with a strong group of riders, who know how to work together, and that also provide options for a couple of different scenarios. 

Matthews – who excels at delivering a fast finish when the size of the field is whittled down on the climbs and could make it into a select group – has fellow TeamBikeExchange riders Robert Stannard, Luke Durbridge and Nick Schultz on the team. Durbridge is a powerful workhorse, Schultz can provide climbing strength and Stannard finished sixth in his own right at Brabantse Pijl – which has some of the same climbs and terrain as the World Championship course.

Ewan, who is a good prospect no matter how big the bunch at the finish, has Lotto-Soudal teammate Harry Sweeny by his side, who this year came into the trade team as part of his lead out train. 

Ewan, too, was once a teammate with all the Team BikeExchange riders that have been selected as he rode for the squad up until the end of 2018. Then there is the hard working support rider from Groupama-FDJ, Miles Scotson, and the experienced Nathan Haas of Cofidis to round out the squad.

TOPSHOT Team LottoSoudal rider Australias Caleb Ewan celebrates on the finish line after winning the fifth stage of the Giro dItalia 2021 cycling race 177 km between Modena and Cattolica EmiliaRomagna on May 12 2021 Photo by Dario BELINGHERI AFP Photo by DARIO BELINGHERIAFP via Getty Images

Caleb Ewan celebrates one of his two wins at this year's Giro d'Italia (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Weaknesses

In the elite men’s road race, although the team is solid and spearheaded by capable riders, a course which could well result in an early selection or decisive attacks on the climbs make it a tougher task for Ewan. He may be one of the top riders when it comes to a sprint but for that to matter the race has got to play out in a way that means he can hang in there to battle for the win at the end. There is also now a bit of a question mark over Ewan’s form, with the sprinter having finished in last place on the first two stages of the Tour de Luxembourg before pulling out ahead of stage 3 to rest and recover for the World Championships.

When it comes to Matthews, even though the course may play to his strengths, he isn’t exactly on a winning streak. While Matthews has delivered quite a few podium finishes this year he’s yet to take a victory. The team may be solid with powerful riders but lacks a superstar, like Julian Alaphilippe or Wout van Aert, that consistently can finish the job on the style of course we will see in Flanders.

The view from Australia

The road races at the Olympic Games didn’t deliver the hoped for results for Australia with the promising men’s team, led by Richie Porte, not even delivering a rider in the top ten. 

While it'd be hard to argue it is a result that has destroyed the morale of the Australian cycling fan – as there have been plenty of impressive individual performances from Australians while competing with their trade teams to keep it high – but there is nothing quite like seeing a nation's top riders pull together to deliver. 

That is particularly the case given the World Championships now starts to come into sharper focus for fans of the green and gold because after Belgium the next host is Wollongong, Australia. The last time the event was in Australia Cadel Evans was wearing the rainbow stripes during the year leading in and, of course, a repeat of that scenario this time would be a dream anticipation building outcome. 

Matthews, too, as one of the best prospects from the nation to deliver a rainbow jersey, has been landing close to the target at the World Championships for years now and if ever he could do with a direct hit, this would be the year. If his win drought continues till the end of the season, it’ll be the first since the 30 year old joined a WorldTour team in 2011 that he hasn’t had a victory on the board. If he could take that win in Flanders, however, the rest of the season would quickly be forgotten.

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