Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images

Meet Matt Dinham, the Aussie climber joining the WorldTour ranks

With hard work and a clear goal in mind the 22-year-old steps up to the big leagues in 2023.

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When the 2023 men’s WorldTour season kicks off, it will do so with a bunch of new Australians in the mix. Jensen Plowright, Rudy Porter, Blake Quick, Cameron Scott, and Jay Vine are all stepping up; so too is 22-year-old Sydneysider Matthew Dinham who just signed a three-year contract with Team DSM.

While Dinham’s had to wait until 22 for his dream to come true, his journey to the WorldTour began a long time ago.

“I started riding when I was four years old,” Dinham says with a smile. “My dad was a good runner in his day but hadn’t done that much riding until he set the goal of doing the Cape Epic mountain bike race. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing for him. After he completed it he took me out on rides on the weekends. That’s how I got introduced to the sport.

“One of my first bikes was a 20-inch Scott mountain bike and it was almost heavier than I was back then, so when we went on rides it was pretty hard,” he adds with a laugh.

Dinham spent his early childhood in South Africa where both his parents plus he and his sister were born. He tried many different cycling disciplines like BMX, downhill, and cross country mountain biking because he just wanted to race. When Dinham was 11 years old, the family moved to Australia.

“The move to Sydney presented new opportunities,” he explains. “There was more of a road scene here and the local crit races played a big part in shifting the focus of my riding.”

Dinham became an Australian citizen in 2017 just before racing the mountain bike world championships for Australia that year. Although his focus is on the road now, he is also the current Australian XCO champion, beating veteran Dan McConnell earlier this season.

“I don’t intend on following the same path as Tom Pidcock or Chris Blevins who still excel in many disciplines,” he says. “I think they have a unique opportunity to race a mixed program.

“That national championship came as a bit of a surprise,” Dinham admits. “After the [2022] Santos Festival of Cycling I was looking for something different to reset before embarking on a plane to race in Europe this summer. I had just received a new bike and maybe rode it four times before the race. The course had some climbs so I could use my road form to my advantage. I most likely won’t have the opportunity to defend the title next year and sadly haven’t raced in the jersey this season.”

The Santos Festival of Cycling that Dinham refers to was the first real opportunity for him to get on the radar of the bigger teams. While it wasn’t the regular, WorldTour-level Tour Down Under – that was cancelled due to COVID-related travel difficulties – the 2022 Festival of Cycling, just like the year before, still offered competitive racing at a domestic level.

Dinham won the best young rider classification and came in second overall against some of the top Aussie pros in the sport like Chris Harper, Luke Plapp, and Luke Durbridge. Dinham’s BridgeLane teammate Jimmy Whelan won the race overall.

Team BridgeLane after winning the 2022 Santos Festival of Cycling with Jimmy Whelan (third from left). Dinham (third from the right) won the best young rider jersey and finished second overall. Team manager Andrew Christie-Johnston is on the far right. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

Dinham took the opportunities that were on offer in Australia during his three seasons with Team BridgeLane. Racing abroad and getting noticed by WorldTour teams was nearly impossible during 2020 and some of the 2021 season when Australia was in lockdown. It’s also the reason that Dinham is ‘already’ 22 years old before taking that step up.

“During the COVID pandemic, I worked part-time in a bike shop, studied at university, and did everything I could to keep progressing on and off the bike,” he says. “I used the opportunity to get into the gym and work on a knee injury I was struggling with at the time. I worked as much as I could at the bike shop to save money and trained hard on the bike.

“It was tough watching the European riders getting the chance to race while we couldn’t leave the country. I think that’s how many younger riders rose through the ranks faster than I could.”

After Dinham shone during the 2022 Festival of Cycling and at the MTB nationals, and with the COVID lockdowns finally over, he traveled to Europe. He continued on his path of taking chances when they presented themselves and earned some results along the way.

“I think my fourth place on the Planche des Belles Filles during the Tour d’Alsace ignited a spark – it was a stand-out result,” he says. “Then I won a race in the Alps [the hilly La Maurienne] and teams started negotiating with my manager Jason Bakker.”

Dinham also finished seventh in the U23 road race at the World Championship in Wollongong in September, his last race of the season.

“It was such an amazing experience in front of the home crowds,” he says of Worlds. “When we race in Europe no one really knows us and then to have everyone cheering for us was pretty special. On the climbs the cheers were so loud that I had to stop myself from getting too excited in the race. It would have been easy to go too hard in the opening laps and cramp up big-time towards the end,” he says with a laugh.

A seventh place at Worlds would usually spark the interest of WorldTour teams even more, but by then the wheels were already in motion with DSM.

“The move to DSM happened quite fast,” he continues. “I had a really good chat with them. They have a great track record with Australian riders like Chris Hamilton who has a MTB background too and also came through BridgeLane, but also Michael Storer and Jai Hindley. I think DSM and Australians have similar working cultures and they have helped some really great riders step up. I believe they are the best fit for me and the fact that they gave me a three-year contract shows the confidence they have in me.”

After spending three years with BridgeLane, Dinham is now the latest Australian rider to join the WorldTour from the Australian Continental team. Dinham feels like he owes a lot to them.

“I was still active in mountain biking in 2019 but was looking at how I could turn my passion into a profession,” he recalls. “There were more opportunities on road teams and I got a place on BridgeLane. That was the best thing that could have happened to me. Andrew [Christie-Johnston, team manager] has been vital to my success as a rider. The team wouldn’t operate without him. He runs the team but has also coached me personally. Working with Andrew has been great. I wouldn’t be here today without him.”

It was also Christie-Johnston who helped Dinham with the practical side of things, helping him find a manager. His training expertise was welcomed as well.

“When we spoke to teams, they all really valued Andrew’s input when it came to the number-crunching,” Dinham says. “Because he has helped so many quality riders get into the WorldTour, they have a lot of respect for him.” All told, 15 riders from Christie-Johnston-managed teams have now made it to the WorldTour, including Richie Porte, Nathan Haas, Jack Haig, Paddy Bevin, and Ben O’Connor.

Next year Dinham will leave Sydney behind and move overseas. He is thinking of basing himself in the area around Nice, in southern France.

“It’s an added difficulty for riders from Australia because you don’t start your career from your parents’ house or home base,” he says. “In the past two seasons I have been racing in France a lot and I have gotten to know the culture a bit. As a climber, the mountains north of Nice are ideal and probably better than a place like Girona.

“I haven’t learned French yet but I am planning to try. So far, I can manage to order a coffee in a cafe which is a pretty important skill for an Aussie,” he says with a smile.

Dinham is a humble and soft-spoken guy who is grateful for the opportunities he’s had. His parents’ move to Australia, the support from the Australian national team during races like the Tour de l’Avenir, and the support he experienced during the past three seasons at Team BridgeLane. He is eager to discover what’s next for him. 

“Up until this moment the dream was to become pro,” he says. “I am starting to define new goals now. DSM and I haven’t discussed what next year or the next three years will look like exactly. I want to focus on racing stage races and ride a couple of Grand Tours. I hope to make the Tour de France team before the end of my contract. That is my personal ambition and I will work as hard as I can to get there.”

Dinham is a climber but has some catching up to do, especially on the longer climbs. He’s hopeful that his multi-discipline background should help him in some of the sport’s most iconic races.

“Coming from a MTB background I do well on the short efforts but still have some improvements to make on the longer climbs, especially with the altitude on a climb like Col de l’Iseran [2,770 m] in Tour de l’Avenir,” he says. “I feel that climbing is my biggest strength because I don’t have the same sprint as some of the punchers or rouleurs. I want to develop myself in all areas and I would love to ride Strade Bianche one day.”

Next year is a big unknown for the 22-year-old. He has hopes and dreams but also hasn’t raced much against the current WorldTour riders because of his path from a domestic team in Australia to where he is right now.

“It still hasn’t sunk in when I realise I am going into the WorldTour now,” he says. “Many of the development riders [he raced against at the World Championships] have already raced against some of the top pros and having that knowledge that they can be competitive is helpful. It will be daunting lining up against the best in the world but I feel fit and healthy and ready for the challenge.

“I like to keep improving myself and as long as there is progress, I am happy. I look forward to what comes next, working with the team to see how far we can go together.”

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