The 2015 season was Scott Sunderland's first full year on the road after a successful career on the track as a sprinter. The 28-year-old enjoyed stage wins in America and Australia before taking out the almost 300km Melbourne to Warrnambool classic to close out the year.
Sunderland's season hinted at his potential on the road and saw him ink a deal with Team Illuminate for 2016 alongside fellow Australians, the Scotson brothers. Full of promise, 2016 became Sunderland's annus horribilis as he failed to finish any of the UCI tours he started.
In 2017, a refreshed Sunderland is riding with Australia's premier domestic team, IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness, and as his Tour de Langkawi stage win suggests, is set for his best road season to date.
While team manager Andrew Christie-Johnston has been key to Sunderland's revival, former professional Jeremy Hunt has also been a crucial player over the last six months via the DaybyDay Coaching set up.
"I went with Jez Hunt last year when things weren't going so well after leaving the track programme, and I was in a bit of limbo without a coach and everything like that," Sunderland told Cyclingnews. "Once I met up with Jez, with his guidance and training everything started to get back on track. Being with him got me in good form for this tour and this season. He has been amazing and also a great role model as well which has helped me as well.
"Last year obviously didn't go my way, but it gave me time to refocus and regroup, and I've come out with a lot of fire in the belly. That momentum from training has come through with my racing, which has been great to hit the ground running with results."
Having come from a controlled environment on the track, in comparison to the often chaotic world of road racing, Sunderland explained that while last year had its challenges, he isn't shying away from the tarmac.
"When this is your job, and you are trying to do the best you can but things aren't clicking, and you aren't having a good year, if anyone isn't enjoying something or things don't go your way you do question if it is worth it," he said. "That is where I come from to start this year, and I am a lot stronger from having had those tougher moments. Especially coming from the sprint programme where everything is pretty set, and you know what you are doing year-to-year. Fully committing to the road you have a lot of inspiration to go well, so when things don't go your way it does become difficult," said the three-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist.
"For me, when I was a junior I loved riding the road and everything I have achieved on the velodrome I am very happy with. I look at what I have done, and I achieved everything I set out except an Olympic medal. Fourth place at the Olympic games was fantastic as well. I was fortunate to make the switch into track endurance which helped flow into being a road rider and I enjoy the sport and doing what I do."
Looking to emulate the likes of Theo Bos in transferring his mega track watts on to the road, at 28 there could be suggestions that Sunderland has left it too late. However, Sunderland believes that having avoided major injuries and "years of being burnt out mentally", he feels as young as a junior and it's one number that he doesn't lose sleep over.
While some riders in Sunderland's position would be concerned with racing the biggest possible races to fast-track their move into the Pro Continental or WorldTour ranks, he is focused on winning. Be that a club race or the Tour de France should he make it one day.
"For me, I am the type of rider who enjoys racing whatever race I race, and I give it my best regardless of being a club crit or a race like Langkawi. I don't see any difference, I always want to be up for the win and try and put myself in the best situation," added Sunderland, who will race in Europe for the first time with IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness later this year.
Since making the full-time move from the track, Sunderland has shown his ability to win at one-day races or stage races. Both events allowing Sunderland to equally express his 2000 watt plus prowess in a sprint.
In 2017, Sunderland is aiming to show his growth and progress on the road while continuing to build his chase as one of the sprinters to watch.
"The thing with being a sprinter is that you always want to see where you stack up against the top guys. In training, you can hit big numbers, but you never know until you get the opportunity," he said.
Having taken his so far limited opportunities with both hands, Sunderland is well on his way to proving himself as a sprinter. Both on the track and the road.
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