Having overseen the most successful season to date for an Australian U23 national team in Europe, James Victor is confident of further success at the Bergen Worlds later this month.
In his debut season at the national coach, Victor guided Michael Matthews to the U23 rainbow jersey on home soil in Geelong and Luke Durbridge to silver in the time trial. In the following years, Caleb Ewan claimed silver in the 2014 Worlds, winning the bunch sprint behind solo victor Sven Erik Bystrom.
Against the clock, Victor has also overseen rainbow jerseys for Durbridge, Damien Howson, and Campbell Flakemore, with ten medals in total during his seven years running the U23 programme.
For the 2017 Worlds, Victor and the selection panel "deliberated over numbers" for the 191km road race, before settling on a five-man team with Callum Scotson the sole representative for the time trial.
"The U23 group that I've had in Europe this year is clearly the most successful U23 team we've ever had in Europe, and the boys have podiumed in every U23 podium race they've started in Europe," Victor told Cyclingnews of the U23 team. "Except for the first race in Italy on April 2. They've consistently been a successful group and their confidence is at a new level.
"Without having a pure sprinter, I don't anticipate it will be a big bunch sprint like Qatar last year, our objective is to reduce the group as much as possible in the last couple of laps. I think we have a couple of options to play in those laps to get someone on the podium."
The riders that Victor will be calling upon are the WorldTour bound Jai Hindley and Michael Storer, both to Sunweb, and Lucas Hamilton. Robert Stannard rounds out the squad and the first year U23 rider will be the "best prospect for the road race" as Victor explained. Stannard, who rode last year's Worlds for New Zealand at junior level, has also shown promise against the clock but to ensure the greatest possibility of success on the road, isn't racing against the clock in Bergen.
"Considering it's Robert's first year in the U23s, we can look to further down the track as to where the time trial will fit in his objectives over the next year or two," Victor said. "This year we felt that Robert is probably our best bet if it does come down to a small bunch finish, and that we take Robert to the line there."
While Stannard is still a developing prospect, Hamiton, Hindley, and Storer have all proven themselves as climbing talents in one-day and stages races. The trio has also performed well on the Australian national championships circuit in Buninyong, which Victor likes to the Bergen course.
"The course is not dissimilar to the Buninyong climb from the bottom roundabout to the top of Mount Buninyong in the profile. We've taken that into account but the finish is still 10km from the top of the climb. It is certainly not going to be an easy race," he said.
Although confident in the chances of his riders, Victor does see Australia as a "stand out favourites for the gold medal", pointing instead to Belgium as Norway as the countries to beat.
"Jasper Philipsen from Belgium has had a very successful year with BMC and will be suited to the course," he said. "Kristoffer Halvorsen from Norway, who won the points jersey at l'Avenir, is in super condition and on home ground. It will be like Michael Matthews in Geelong I think. He'll be extremely hard to beat.
"The group that we have have a lot of experience racing against those guys this year so we know what they are up against in terms of opposition. I think it will be one the most competitive world championships that we've ever seen in the U23. But the unknown of the 191km and how that is going to play out will be interesting over the last couple of laps."
The bid for Worlds success starts September 18 when Scotson lines out for the 37.2km time trial before attention turns to the 191km road race. Scotson, the U23 Australian champion against the clock, will be aiming to match the bronze of brother Miles last year as Victor added.
"He's hungry for a result and he's still an U23 for next year. We haven't seen the profile for Austria yet, given how hard the road race course is going to be, he's hungry for this year. He knows what his brother achieved last year," he said.
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