In August 2016, Scott Bowden made his debut as a professional road cyclist. The Australian was a relative unknown when national coach Brad McGee named him in the Olympic team alongside Richie Porte, Rohan Dennis and Simon Clarke. Bowden's selection came about because he qualified for the men's mountain bike race and could therefore also contest the road race. While Rio marked the start of Bowden's road career, it also marked the beginning of the end for his career on the dirt.
Inking a deal with Australian Continental squad IsoWhey Sports Swisswellness, Bowden's focus in his single year at U23 level was to secure a move into the Pro-Continental or WorldTour ranks. His season started promisingly over the Australian summer of cycling, but a seemingly innocuous knee injury in February all but wrecked his season. Despite the misfortune of the injury, Bowden has no regrets in making the switch.
"In all honesty, it's been a really challenging 12-months physically from the point of view from the injury but also then mentally trying to deal with that and the frustrations of not being able to race," Bowden told Cyclingnews. "Particularly being a year I wanted to do something a little new and focus on the road and it hasn't exactly gone to plan. It is a long game cycling and all part of it I guess.
"When you start playing with those kind of thoughts, nothing good can come of it. To be honest, it wasn’t the result of making this choice," he said of the decision to move to the road. "Whether I'd made it or not, I could have very well have had the same injury happen."
Due to the extent of the troublesome knee injury, Bowden explained he spoke with team managers Andrew Christie-Johnstone and Steve Price, and coach Mark Fenner, telling management that he was going to "sit out" the team's European racing programme.
"It was a pretty tough call to make because I knew I wasn't going to be going well enough to even play my role as any sort of teammate in those races," Bowden recounted. "I said I wasn't going to be any help so I may as well just stay at home. It was a tough pill to swallow but I felt it was the best decision for myself and the team."
While Bowden thought he was making the final call on his place in the team, Christie-Johnstone told his fellow Tasmanian he would need to pack his bags and join the team in Europe.
"He said 'go over and train in warmer weather. If by the end of the trip you can slot into some of the races with the team, that's great. But no pressure,'" he said. "I have been really lucky to step into such a good team with strong support for the riders with Andrew and Steve. It was great to get over and do some training in really nice places and great weather and also to experience some racing on the road in Belgium and France."
Slowly but surely, European summer training in the French Alps and Girona paid off for Bowden as he lined out for his first UCI in late-July.
"I took a lot away from it. Everything Andrew suggested it would be ended up being for me. It wasn't a result based on trying to achieve results but I guess looking at the bigger picture moving forward," he said.
Bowden's two UCI race days were French one-day events but having ridden the high cols of France and Spain, Bowden explained he is still finding out his capabilities on the road and isn't keen to specialise just yet.
"I don't want to pigeon hole myself to one particular kind of rider. I didn't do any mountain races, big climbing races, but I wouldn't like to say I am not a climber but at the same time I really enjoy the punchy races of France and Belgium and the hustle of that kind of racing," he said. "Technical circuits and cobbles and that kind of thing I quite enjoy as well. When I go back to Europe, I definitely want to have a crack at some hilly races in the Alps. At the same time, I am excited to go back and do some of the UCI one-day races in Belgium and France."
Currently into his first "proper training block since January", Bowden is aiming to make his return to racing in the National Road Series (NRS) next month with the possibility of some Asian racing with IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness later in the season.
"The team has some UCI Asian races left before the end of the year and there are some crits over summer. Maybe a mountain bike race or two perhaps," he said of his likely racing programme with the Tour of Tasmania also high on his priority list. "Also, just building towards next year already. It sounds like a long way away but I guess it is not really. If anything this year has taught me, it is that time goes fast."
A junior triathlete and mountain biker before his transition to the road, Bowden is certain he is where he wants to be despite the setbacks. With a challenging first year on the road almost behind him, Bowden is playing the long term game when it comes to stepping up into the first or second division WorldTour and Pro-Continental ranks knowing he is in the best possible environment for future success.
"It would be a bit unrealistic to expect to step up to another level for next year. The aim is to try and do that by the end of next year for 2019," he said. "To be honest, even if things had gone well this year I think it would have been a smart move to spend another year in the IsoWhey environment and learn from the guys before stepping up. At the same time, if anyone gets an offer then nine times out of ten they'll take it. The injury sucks but it could have been worse."
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