With his 11th place overall, Matthew Dinham has taken positives out of the Tour de l’Avenir despite Australia’s bad luck.
A stricken Australian squad was left with just half their team after Blake Quick could not start the first stage due to a COVID-19 positive test and Jensen Plowright and Rudy Porter withdrew after crashing on stage 4.
With a team time trial falling in the middle of this year's edition of the premier under-23 stage race, the undermanned Australian outfit lost two minutes to full-strength nations.
After placing 12th overall in 2021, Dinham said he was “disappointed” to have only improved by one place this year.
“There was a lot of potential for a better result, but as is always the case with l'Avenir, things outside of my control made it harder to get there. In the end, I know I gave it everything for myself and the Aussie jersey, so I have to be satisfied with that,” Dinham said.
His fifth place on stage 6, plus a couple of hard-fought days in the mountains, saw Dinham climb up to seventh overall ahead of the last stage in the French Alps.
“Unfortunately, I got caught behind another crash on stage 7 which required a huge effort in the valley to catch the front before the hilltop. The next day I was close again, just running out of legs on the last climb.
“But the effect of all the additional efforts caught up to me on the last day and I just missed getting back into the convoy over the Col de l’Iseran, which lost me a lot of time in the valley.
“It was disappointing to be so close to defending seventh on GC, but that's bike racing and I'll learn from it for the next one. Finishing 11th on GC, considering the tour we had, is a massive credit to the boys who did everything they could to give me the best chance at a result,” he said.
Despite the result, Dinham is upbeat about the under-23 squad's next outing as a national team, which will be at the UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong this month.
Five of Australia’s riders from the Tour de l’Avenir have been selected for the home Worlds: Dinham, Plowright, Porter, Dylan George and Dylan Hopkins.
“I feel confident in the team. We learnt a lot both individually and as a team at l'Avenir and hopefully, with a bit more luck on our side, we'll be ready to take on the race,” Dinham said.
“I think we have a lot of options in the way we can race, whether that's leading out Jensen for a sprint or following late moves. We're all highly motivated to deliver a result, because it's not often we get to race at this level on home soil, in front of friends and family.”
From the start of the Tour de l’Avenir, Australia showed intent to be protagonists, with George and Hopkins working hard on the flat stages to set up Plowright for the sprints and keep their climbers safe in the messy bunch finishes.
However, that unravelled when Porter and Plowright crashed on a rainy stage 4.
“Rudy had a lot of skin missing and Jensen needed stitches in his knee, but fortunately, both will be fine for World Champs this month,” Dinham said.
Hopkins also reflected positively on an unlucky Tour de l’Avenir, where he played a team role to support Plowright and Dinham.
“L’Avenir was a big learning curve for me,” Hopkins said.
“I’ve done plenty of Euro races, but l’Avenir really taught me the importance of teamwork and how everyone needs to perform to achieve the result.”
“I think as a team we could’ve had a bit more luck on our side, but sometimes that’s just the way it is. I really enjoyed the race for me but definitely feel we have more to achieve there.”
Like his teammates, the Canberra cyclist is hungry to perform in front of a home crowd at Wollongong 2022.
“I think everyone is very excited for the home Worlds. I imagine we all have a little bit of fire in the belly to make the most of this amazing opportunity.”
1. Cian Uijtdebroeks (Belgium) 26:50:12
11. Matthew Dinham (Australia) +11:03
46. Dylan Hopkins (Australia) +58:23
65. Dylan George (Australia) +1:27:51
DNF. Jensen Plowright (Australia)
DNF. Rudy Porter (Australia)
DNF. Blake Quick (Australia)
Feature photo: Freddy Guérin/DirectVelo