Alex Edmondson might be Australian, but his heart lies in the cobbles of Flanders. The 23-year-old has long dreamed of writing his name alongside the heroes of the pavé, and he will take his first steps towards achieving that goal after being named in Orica-Scott's Tour of Flanders line-up.
Edmondson showed his credentials as a cobbled Classics rider when he won the Tour of Flanders' under-23 race, but his start on Sunday will be an experience on an entirely different level from what he’s ever done before.
"For me, it has always been a dream to be able to ride the likes of Flanders and Roubaix," Edmondson told Cyclingnews the day before the team was announced. "If I get the call up for Flanders, then it's about trying to get the experience and sponge off the guys, and one day it has always been a dream of mine to say that I've won one of those monuments. Either classic I would be absolutely rapt. You've got to be realistic. It's a big step. I might have won the under-23s, but the elite race is a whole other ball game.
"I think that where I've come from with all the injuries over the summer, I'm just taking every day as it comes. I'm just looking forward to getting out there and doing the best that I can and being able to give back to such a wonderful team that has supported me through the injuries."
Orica-Scott is not among the top favourites for Sunday's race, but they do go in with options in the form of Jens Keukeleire and Luke Durbridge, who have been on flying form so far during this Classics campaign. The team is looking to complete the set of Monuments after winning Paris-Roubaix and Il Lombardia last season, added to the Milan-San Remo and Liege-Bastogne-Liege victories that they already have.
For a young rider such as Edmondson, it is an opportunity to ride alongside riders that he once looked up to and a chance to glean as much information as possible from them is one that he's not going to give up.
"Look what Mat Hayman did last year at Paris-Roubaix. I remember that night I was back in Australia for a camp for the Olympics. I spent the whole night yelling at the bloody TV," laughed Edmondson. "Being able to look up at Mat as an idol and now being able to race on the same team, and being able to learn from him, I almost have to pinch myself about the opportunity that I've got. The guys are not just amazing athletes on the bike; off the bike they're great.
"You just forget everything and they might have some of the biggest résumés, but at the same time, they're the nicest guys going. I'm just soaking it up and they're probably getting angry with the amount of questions that I ask, but at the end of the day the more questions I ask the better I'm going to be and they're happy to help with the tips here and there. I think I'm just so fortunate to ride with Orica-Scott. They've supported me so much, and the amount of patience they've shown is amazing."
While Edmondson is still a relative rookie at the elite level on the road, he has been around the block, in cycling terms, as part of the Australian track programme. During that time he has been a world champion on three occasions and took silver at the Olympic Games in the team pursuit. His pedigree in that discipline earned him a spot on Orica-Scott's team time trial squad for the World Championships in Doha, where the team finished third behind Etixx-Quick-Step and BMC Racing. Edmondson stepped up to WorldTour cycling last season but had to balance that with his track programme during the build-up to the Olympic Games. It is an experience that has helped him adapt quickly to his first full season on the road.
"I think that track cycling is a really good pathway to come through but not only that but also the mental side of being able to deal with the pressure," explained Edmondson. "Sometimes when you do come to the road after a long time on the track you don't really have that road form. You grovel through, and I found that out last year at the Tour of Britain coming out of the games so whenever I have a hard time I think, well, if I've got through that then I can get through anything."
Sunday will likely feel like being thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool but Edmondson relishes the challenge, and it's a chance to think about what direction his career could go in further down the line.
"This year is all a bit of a learning curve, and I'm going into races not really knowing what I'm in for," Edmondson told Cyclingnews. "I want to do the best I can but for the team. If I can help the team get a good result, then I'm doing my job well and being able to do that well and maybe bring it to another level—who knows? Maybe one day I'll be able to come to these races and have people working for me. At the moment, I'm enjoying every second, just being able to ride. I'm living the dream. What more could you want? An Australian racing in Belgium doing what he loves."