Youngsters, rise and shine! The 2020 UCI WorldTour is about to kick off in Australia with the 22nd edition of the Santos Tour Down Under (21-26 January). With new kits and new faces, the Australian season opener and its six stages around Adelaide are a perfect way to get back into road cycling after a winter break. It has also proved to be an excellent opportunity for young newcomers to the UCI WorldTour to get a better grasp of what racing at the highest level means. With some particularly gifted riders, it has even become a sensational display of raw talent.
One of the most striking examples comes from three-time Men Elite road race UCI World Champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe). The Slovakian star has ridden the Tour Down Under four times and shined from his very first participation, back in 2010, when he was a young rookie discovering the elite of road cycling with Liquigas-Doimo. Very much at ease on the iconic roads leading to Willunga, he was already able to match the likes of Cadel Evans uphill and make his way inside the top 5 on two stages. Any little doubt there may have been before the Tour Down Under vanished in Australia: Sagan was indeed an exceptional talent.
Muchmore recently, the 2019 Tour Down Under was the first race Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) rode as a professional, at 20 years old. He finished inside the top 15 overall, showing only a few months after his Tour de l’Avenir triumph that he already had what it takes to vie with his elders. “I already surprised myself at the Tour Down Under,” said the Slovenian rising star at the end of a breakthrough season that saw him climb onto the overall podium of the 2019 Vuelta Ciclista a España.
The examples of young riders who have struck early in Australia are countless. The Santos Tour Down Under was Egan Bernal’s first race with the former Team Sky (now Team Ineos), in 2018. At 20 years old, he then dominated the best Young Rider standings while a 22-year-old Nic Dlamini, then sporting the Team Dimension Data kit, left his first mark among the pros, snatching victory in the King of the Mountains classification. The record of winners of the Young Rider classification is an all-star list featuring the likes of Philippe Gilbert, Luis León Sánchez, José Joaquín Rojas…
The Santos Tour Down Under has also helped local heroes climb the ladders, ever since the first edition. In 1999, Cadel Evans was only 22 years old and early in his transition from mountain biking to road racing. He participated with the support of the Australian Institute of Sports and earned a place on the final podium as the best Young Rider.
Thirteen years later, Rohan Dennis was sporting the jersey of the University of South Australia when he offered spectacular glimpses of the talent that has since led him to two victories in the individual time trial at the UCI Road World Championships: he won both the best Young Rider and King of the Mountains rankings while finishing 5th overall.
The next generation is here
The UniSA-Australia team will once again bring young talents to the Santos Tour Down Under this year, with the likes of Nicholas White (22 years old, stage winner in the 2019 Tour de Taiwan) and Jarrad Drizners (20, winner of the U23 road race at the Australian National Championships this January) set to participate. And they are far from being the only youngsters getting ready to take on the first UCI WorldTour event of 2020.
With the emergence of early-blooming talents such as Pogačar, Bernal or Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), teams participating in the UCI WorldTour are engaged in a fierce battle to discover tomorrow’s great champions and give them the opportunity to shine as early as possible.
Ahead of 2020, around 50 riders have signed their first UCI WorldTour contract at the age of 23 or younger. A handful of them will display their talent as early as this Santos Tour Down Under and about a quarter of the peloton will be eligible for the best Young Rider competition.
After completing his hat-trick of victories in the U23 individual time trial at the Worlds, the Dane Mikkel Bjerg will ride in Australia with UAE Team Emirates alongside his Belgian teammate Jasper Philipsen, who is also 21 years old but already snatched a stage victory one year ago in the Santos Tour Down Under.
A revamped Movistar Team has announced the participation of three youngsters who are discovering the UCI WorldTour this season: Germany’s Juri Hollmann (20 years old), Britain’s Gabriel Cullaigh (23) and the Spaniard Sergio Samitier (24). Watch out – these are only a few of the many young talents getting ready to turn the world of cycling upside down!