When observers look to Australian cycling for the next emerging men’s road racing hope, there is no shortage of candidates – from not only the professional ranks, but also the pools of talent being developed among the Under 19 and Under 23 riders.
However, as Australian cycling enjoys seeing the likes of Michael Hepburn (Orica-GreenEdge), Rohan Dennis (BMC) and now Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) make inroads in to their World Tour careers, and await the likes of world under 23 time trial champion Campbell Flakemore in his first professional season with BMC next year, one name many are speaking of - and as a general classification rider - is Rob Power.
Dave Sanders, one of Australian cycling’s most credentialed coaches who has played an integral role in the development of so many up and coming riders into valued professionals, says the 19-year-old from Perth in West Australian oozes potential.
The big name to step up: Rob Power
Sanders this year managed the Australian under-19 team for its international season, while Power rode with the Jayco-AIS under-23 team coached by James Victor.
But Sanders has Power firmly in his sights to ride in next year’s Tour Down Under for the Uni SA-Australia team for which he has long been a sports director.
Asked who is a rider to keep an eye on from Australia’s pool of rising road talents, Sanders told Cyclingnews, “The biggest name that has stepped up is Rob Power.”
Sanders does not downplay Caleb Ewan’s place in Australian cycling’s future. However, he sees Power as a genuine all-rounder for stage races, especially after his second place overall in this year’s Tour de l’Avenir from August 23-30, at 30 seconds to Colombia’s Miguel Angel Lopez. Power also placed second in the mountains classification, fourth in the points classification and fourth in the prologue.
“There is Caleb, but there is Rob. He is something. I thought he was going to be special, but he is only first year senior – he is 19 – and to run second in the Tour de l’Avenir … No Australian has made the Tour de l’Avenir podium before.
“He is the biggest name of the new young riders apart from Caleb. He is an extraordinary athlete, an extraordinary young fella … a great guy.”
But Sanders says Power started the Tour de l’Avenir clearly on form after claiming three wins in 10 days at the Grand Prix Poggiano, Trofeo Briga Novarese and Grand Prix Poggiana in August. Sanders recalls how: “Power was almost winning at will.”
His year also included overall places of 13th in the Tour d’Alsace, 7th in both the Czech Cycling Tour and Tour d’Azerbaidjan and 8th in the Under 23 Course de la Paix. Add his win in the under-23 Oceania road race in February and second place in the under-23 national title in January ... it’s been impressively consistent season.
Looking ahead to the Tour Down Under
What sets Power apart in Australian cycling, says Sanders, is his pure climbing prowess; but then he adds that he still has development to make in time trialling.
“He wasn’t a super time trialler, but he is getting that together,” Sanders said. “That is a discipline he is working on and it is certainly coming along very well. But he is a natural climber. We don’t breed a lot of natural climbers in Australia.”
On whether Power’s all-rounder’s potential may persuade Sanders to race for the overall classification at the Tour Down Under, or remain focused on breaks, Sanders said: “He would certainly be good enough to rank in the top half a dozen [overall].
“It is not a real climbers’ race. There are short power hills which he will certainly be there for, but he is not going to go past ‘Gerro’ [Simon Gerrans] or [Alejandro] Valverde and guys like that for a hilltop finish. But he won’t be far behind them.”
Chances are Sanders would rather employ the Uni SA-Australia team’s usual tactics, where their riders light up the race by igniting or joining the main breaks of the day.
The importance for Sanders is ensuring they experience World Tour racing within their limits, yet finish with something to show for it that usually equals exposure.
“A lot don’t go on to be pros, but we get one or two a year into the pro ranks,” he said. “And some of these kids are several years away from being at their highest level.
With regards to Ewan, who rode for Uni SA-Australia in this year’s Tour Down Under in what was an eye opening experience and this week has been racing for Orica-GreenEdge at the Tour of Beijing, Sanders forecasts 2015 to be a learning curve.
“He will get results in some of the smaller events. He is still very young, but they will let him develop over a couple of years. They have to give him time,” Sanders said.
“It’s very important. It is one step at a time. You get pretty excited about these kids. “They can match it with the big boys on their day, but you just have to be careful with [over committing them with] the Grand Tours and stuff like that. And they know that.”
Rupert Guinness is a sports writer on The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)