Five months ago Dylan Sunderland was flying through the air over a “cliff” in France, out of control and terrified.
He said a media car had struck him on the eighth stage of the Tour de L’aviner, or the Tour of the Future, an event for “pretty much” the best under-23 riders in the world. It was his debut in the event, and he was wearing the green and gold of Australia for the second time.
“I actually fell off, hit the ground over the side of a cliff at 80 kilometres an hour,” he said, adding: “It was extremely dangerous. The last thing I remembered was flying through the air and not knowing where I was going to land because I couldn’t see the ground.
“I was lucky that it was sort of soft bushes and [soft] mud from the rain. But a lot of people were unsure how I actually got up and walked out, because it was about a five-metre drop off the side of the road … Not knowing where you’re gonna end up: it’s not the best feeling.”
The Inverell rider, 22, required 18 stitches for an ankle cut, and damaged ankle ligaments that required the wearing of a moon boot for three months. Sidelined for a month, he was unable to debut at the under-23 world championships, in his last year of eligibility.
Three weeks after resuming training, he was engaged in the 1400 kilometre, nine-day Tour of Hainan, in China. And in November he won the Tour of Tasmania, riding for leading Continental team Bennelong SwissWellness, after capturing a stage and finishing second in two others.
He described the Chinese event as a “good building block” for the Tour of Tasmania, an event he had targeted in the hope of cementing a spot on Team UniSA-Australia for the 2019 Tour Down Under. He was successful in that quest, with him named in the team this week.
But it was a “major goal” that had been cruelly denied him previously when he said a Cycling Australia clerical “mishap” meant UniSA were blocked from competing in the 2018 Down Under Tour, a UCI World Tour race.
UniSA is the Australian national team for the event, and at the 2019 Tour Down Under will include five riders from Bennelong SwissWellness, winner of this year’s National Road Series.
Sunderland is “super excited” over his Tour Down Under selection.
In the unforgiving world of international cycling, he has proved his mettle as he prepares to wade into the deeper water of elite-division racing in 2019 and hopefully secure a professional contract.
Aussie cycling legend @triplesmc’s nephew @DylanSunderlan2 (@BennelongSwissW) may've lost time on Stage 4 & the team may've lost sprinter @scottysundo (no relation) a day prior, but he and the squad are far from finished @ltdlofficial | via @EurosportAUS#homeofcycling#ltdl2018pic.twitter.com/TvdI6fkVxD— Aaron S. Lee (@aaronshanelee) March 21, 2018
While 2018 contained the scariest moment of his career, it also provided him with his ever best results, including a silver medal in the criterium and fourth place in the road race at the under-23 nationals in Buninyong.
“It’s sometimes hard to bounce back,” he said. “I've had my fair share of setbacks this year, with crashes and illness and stuff like that. So to bounce back and still get results, it’s good.”
With 2018 done and dusted, he is home preparing for the 2019 road nationals in Ballarat in early January, where he will compete as an elite rider for the first time, ahead of the Tour Down Under (January 10-20).
“It’s a big step up, a lot higher competition, so it’s going to be a bit of a wait-and-see sort of thing,” he said of his move to the elite division.