TOUR de France cyclist Richie Porte says he has an affinity with young mountain bike riders from his home state.
Partly, this is because when the 29-year-old is not leading WorldTour pelotons over European mountains he is just as happy off-road around his native Launceston, but also because he said there is a heap of talent here worthy of support.
``It's a personal thing for me because I didn't come through the institutes program either and when local businesses are willing to get involved and give these kids a chance to compete at a national level I think that's great,'' Porte said.
``I'm a mountain bike hack and love going out to places like the Blue Tiers and see 15-year-old kids beating me. There's definitely talent there and with all these tracks being built around Tasmania, mountain biking could be the next big sport here. In some countries it's already bigger than road riding.''
The growth of the sport in Tasmania has been mirrored by Launceston Mountain Bike Club, which set up a junior development pathway program to nurture a bumper crop of young riders.
Group coach and co-ordinator Phil Leslie said several local businesses have since pledged financial support with last year's Paris-Nice champion Porte also happy to jump onboard as a mentor and ambassador.
``It's through these businesses becoming involved that we've been able to get our juniors to national level racing,'' Leslie said.
``Initially, we talked about going to nationals and just racing to see where they would come but they've all been with us for a couple of years now and we've got some really exciting prospects from under-15 through to under-23.''
The squad, which includes what Leslie called the ``prodigious talent'' of Wyena's Alex Lack, a first-year under-19 stepping up after coming fourth at under-17 last year, intends to contest this weekend's round of the national series in Mount Buller followed by another in Echuca two weeks later and then the national championships in Bright in March.