Sports science has confirmed what you suspect Dylan Sunderland already knew: he is getting stronger.
Between January 15-20, the highly promising Inverell cyclist, 22, will need all the strength he can summon, in what will be his sternest examination to date in the sport – the 2019 Tour Down Under.
It will be Sunderland’s debut event against the sport’s best riders, after graduating from the under-23 ranks.
In the gruelling South Australian event, he will ride for Team UniSA-Australia, the national team at the six-stage ICU World Tour race.
He doesn’t want to think too much about what awaits him – not yet, anyway, as the Road National Championships start in Ballarat on Friday. The championships will mark his debut as an elite-category competitor.
“I actually haven’t really had much thought on that [the Tour Down Under] yet,” he said. “Sort of taking it race by race at the moment. First off we have the national championships … But yeah, it’s [the Tour Down Under] a hard one. Being such a high level, I’m just unsure how I’m gonna be able to respond to it.”
“It would be nice to be able to be up there and sticking it to them,” he added. “But that being said, these are the best riders in the world.”
For Sunderland, the Tour Down Under is akin to him wading out to deep water and trying to stay afloat. “Definitely. Definitely,” he answered, in reference to the race being uncharted waters for him. “It’s pretty much a massive learning experience for me,” he said.
But he hopes to “get a bit of freedom” from his team “to be able to chase an overall position”.
Sunderland returned to Inverell to prepare for the nationals and the Tour Down Under after capturing the Tour of Tasmania in November – an event he had targeted with the aim of cementing a spot on Team UniSA-Australia.
He spoke to The Leader on Saturday, following a training ride. “The fitness is good,” he said. “[It is] probably the best form I’ve ever had at the moment.”
Good, because he said this year’s Tour would be the hardest yet. “A few of the stages have slightly tougher finishes [than previously], and stuff like that,” he said.
The event will provide Sunderland, who has represented Australian twice before, with the best exposure of his career as he attempts to impress enough to secure his first professional contract. He said that riding in front of the World Tour teams was a “massive opportunity to show them what you can do”.
At the nationals, he is eyeing a top-10 finish in the road race – having placed fourth in the road race at the under-23 nationals in Buninyong last January, and second in the criterium.
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