After a difficult 2018 facing disappointments and injuries, Inverell cyclist Dylan Sunderland is turning the tables this year.
Sunderland showed why he belongs in the elite competition with a top 30 finish in his Tour Down Under debut in January, but it was this month's Herald Sun Tour which proved he was one to beat.
Sunderland finished ninth overall in Australia's oldest stage cycling race, just four minutes and 29 seconds behind winner Dylan Van Baarle.
"It was a really good race for me," Sunderland said.
"With the four world tour teams there, it made it a very hard race. There was a few days that played to my strengths, but the world tour teams are just a whole other level."
He said the biggest challenge was proving he could be competitive among the top tier riders.
After a strong month with Team BridgeLane, Sunderland went into the event feeling confident - with just a few nagging doubts.
"I just needed that little extra to step up," he said, pleased to have succeeded.
With a few new names mixing things up, BridgeLane maintains the core squad of riders who stood by Sunderland following a horror crash in the Tour de L'Avenir last year, which kept him off the bike for months. Sunderland careened into a 10 metre ditch while speeding along at 80 kilometres an hour by a guest car which pulled out in front of the riders.
With 14 stitches and ligament damage, he was forced to take a break from his racing while he recovered.
"They offer a lot of support and they're pretty good in helping me get back to the best shape I can," he said.
Lucky to walk away from the incident, which left his bike in five pieces, Sunderland now says he's happy to get those injuries "out of the way" at the end of the year. He's had a good run since Christmas and is feeling optimistic for the year ahead.
"It always helps to come out and start with a bang in January, and get some really good results straight up," he said.
Sunderland's next challenge is the Oceanic Championships in Tasmania next month, which will attract riders from all over Australia, New Zealand and the wider Oceanic area.
"It's a pretty challenging circuit. I think it's going to suit me pretty well," he said.
He hopes to win the one day race with the help of his BridgeLane team mates.
"My main goal this year is win as much as possible. Make every race count that I start," Sunderland said.