Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race preview

by Matt de Neef


The Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race is the newest event on the Australian summer cycling calendar and the inaugural edition of the race will be held in Geelong this Sunday. The UCI 1.1 elite men’s race has attracted a quality international field for what is sure to be an aggressive day of racing.
CyclingTips editor Matt de Neef put together this preview of the race considering the course, how the race might play out, which riders to look out for, and how you can watch the race.

If it wasn’t already obvious from the name, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race is a tribute to the long and successful career of one of Australia’s greatest ever cyclists: Cadel Evans. It’s a course that Evans himself helped design and one that features many of the roads Evans likes to train on when he’s at home in Barwon Heads over the Australian summer.

The Route

Despite the name of the event, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race barely visits the Great Ocean Road at all. Of the 174km raced by the elite men, just 6.6km of that will be on the famous tourist route — a 2.8km section and a 3.8km section. When the race does visit the Great Ocean Road it won’t be to the windy and picturesque sections of the road you see in all the tourism brochures and websites — it’s two sections near the start of the Great Ocean Road in Torquay where it’s barely even possible to see the ocean.

That’s not to say that it won’t be a picturesque race — the beach-side sections of the course through Barwon Heads and Bells Beach are stunning. And the route might well change in years to come, but calling it “the most beautiful race on earth” at this point might be a little bit of a stretch.

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The 174km race comprises two main sections. The first of these is a 113km ‘Surf Coast Loop’ which takes the riders from Geelong down to Barwon Heads, along the coast through Torquay and Bells Beach, then inland to Moriac and then back east into Geelong.

Apart from a few easy rollers, the race is more or less flat for the first 50km through to Torquay. There are a couple of short climbs through Bells Beach, including a 1.7km climb at 5%: the first KOM of the day.

There are a few rolling hills up towards Moriac, through Ceres and back into Geelong but these are quite minor as well and it seems unlikely that they’ll have any real impact on the race.

Profile for the Surf Coast Loop portion of the course.
Profile for the Surf Coast Loop portion of the course.

The race joins the finishing circuit shortly before hitting a short climb on Queens Park Road after 107km of racing. Fans familiar with the circuit used in the 2010 Road World Championships will recognise this as the second climb on the finishing circuit, but the route for Cadel’s Race sees the riders turn left onto Melville Street partway up the climb, skipping the steepest part of the Queens Park Road ascent.

There’s a short punchy climb up Hyland Street after 110km which averages only 5.5% for 700m but it’s steeper than that towards the top. From the top of this climb it’s essentially all downhill to the start/finish line on the Geelong waterfront, where the second section of the course begins: three laps of a 20.2km closing circuit.

Left: the finishing circuit used in the 2010 Road World Championships. Right: the finishing circuit to be used in the 2015 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
Left: the finishing circuit used in the 2010 Road World Championships. Right: the finishing circuit to be used in the 2015 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.

As you can see from the image above, the finishing circuit used in Cadel’s Race is reminiscent of, although not identical to, the finishing circuit used in the 2010 Road World Championships. The cornerstone of the circuit is the extremely steep climb of Barwon Boulevard and Challambra Crescent, which featured in the 2010 Worlds.

This ascent through suburban Geelong is 1km long at 10% but it ramps up in a series of steps, the steepest of which exceeds 20%. This climb comes 6.8km into the closing lap, meaning the riders will reach it with 52.8km, 32.6km and 12.4km left in the bike race.

After a fast descent the riders hit the short and probably unimportant Queens Park Road/Melville Avenue climb which they already visited on approach to the closing circuits. The Hyland Street climb is likely to be more decisive and the riders reach it with 46.5km, 26.3km and 6.1km left to race.

As mentioned, it’s basically all downhill to the Geelong waterfront from there and the approach to the finish line is dead flat (in contrast to the slightly uphill Moorabool Street finished used in the 2010 Worlds).

Elevation profile of the closing circuit.
Elevation profile of the closing circuit.

The riders will complete somewhere in the vicinity of 2,200m of climbing in the 174km of racing. There are two intermediate sprint points — one in Barwon Heads and one in Torquay — and two spots where KOM points will be on offer – Bells Beach and Challambra Crescent.

How it might play out

A breakaway is likely to get away in the opening kilometres but with Cadel Evans’ Australian hometown of Barwon Heads coming 28km into the race, it would be a fitting farewell if the race stayed together to that point and Evans led the peloton through. But that almost certainly won’t happen.

There are no climbs on the Surf Coast Loop that are hard enough to force a split in the field but depending on the weather conditions, the wind might be a factor between Barwon Heads and Bells Beach.

However, any decisive selection that happens in the race will almost certainly occur on the closing circuits, most likely on Challambra Crescent. It’s worth noting, however, that in the 2010 Worlds, 11 laps of the closing circuit and Challambra Crescent weren’t enough to remove all of the fast-finishers from the race.

That race came down to a bunch sprint from around 20 riders, with Thor Hushovd taking the win ahead of Matti Breschel and Allan Davis. The same was true in the elite women’s and U23 men’s road races, where sprinters Giorgia Bronzini and Michael Matthews won, from groups of 20 and 46 respectively.

Being a shorter race than the Worlds (174km vs 260km) could make the closing laps of Cadel’s Race more aggressive, forcing an elite selection over Challambra Crescent the final time, with the Hyland Road climb possibly thinning things out again. Either way, the most likely scenario on Sunday seems to be a sprint from a reduced lead group. The “pure sprinters” are unlikely to be there at the end — but then there aren’t too many pure sprinters on the startlist. Rather it will be the riders that can climb and sprint that will be the ones to watch.

The Challambra Crescent climb could be decisive come Sunday.
The Challambra Crescent climb could be decisive come Sunday.

The contenders

With that in mind, who are the riders to watch on Sunday? First up, it’s worth noting that Cadel Evans is unlikely to win in his final race. To do so there’ll need to be an elite selection on the final few climbs and he’ll need to go to the finish with just a handful of riders to sprint against. There certainly won’t be anyone gifting this race to Cadel, and he wouldn’t want anyone to.

With that in mind, here are some of the favourites, in our opinion:

Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge)

At his post-race press conference at the Australia Road Nationals, where he finished second to Heinrich Haussler, Caleb Ewan was prompted by a journalist who said “you showed today that you’re more than just a pure sprinter”. The 20-year-old responded with a smile, saying: “I thought I’d shown that already, but obviously not.”

Make no mistake — Caleb Ewan can climb, and he can most definitely sprint. If he can get himself over Challambra Crescent three times with the lead group, there’s probably only one rider in the race that can beat him.

Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling)

Haussler didn’t have the sort of success he was after at the Tour Down Under but he showed a few weeks earlier, at the Aussie Road Nationals, that he’s more than capable of being there for the final sprint in a hilly race. He got dropped a few times on Mount Buninyong, but caught back on each time, and he’ll have a few kilometres of road to do that after the last climb on the closing circuit if the same occurs on Sunday.

If it does come down to a sprint between Ewan and Haussler, it will be interesting to see how much Ewan has learned from his defeat at the Nationals in early January. Will the experience of Haussler prevail again?

Gianni Meersman (Etixx-Quick-Step)

Gianni Meersman is another fast-finisher that should be able to get himself over the climbs to contest the final sprint. After a slightly disappointing week at the Tour Down Under, Meersman and his Etixx-Quick-Step team will be keen to leave Australia with a win under their belt.

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Neil van der Ploeg (Avanti)

Among the seven Continental teams on the startlist is Avanti, the most successful Continental team in Australia (and now New Zealand) in recent years. Neil van der Ploeg is listed as a starter for Avanti and he’ll be one of the riders to watch if it does come down to a sprint.

Van der Ploeg was third in the Australian Road Nationals after making it into the elite lead group — he could well do the same again on Sunday and shouldn’t be underestimated.

Riders to watch

Of course there are any number of riders in the race that could walk away with the win and still more that could influence the outcome or animate the race. Here’s a selection:

Nathan Haas (Cannondale-Garmin)

Canberran Nathan Haas was well and truly in the mix in the uphill finish to stage 2 of the Tour Down Under into Stirling and could be one to keep an eye on come Sunday. He’s a strong enough climber to make it to the finish with the leaders and he packs a strong enough sprint to be right up there if he’s having a good day.

Matt Goss and Tyler Farrar (MTN-Qhubeka)

Their moves to MTN-Qhubeka represent something of a rebirth for Matt Goss and Tyler Farrar. At their best, both riders could be a real factor in the race. But this is the first race of the season for both Goss and Farrar and it remains to be seen how they have adjusted to life at the African ProConti squad.

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Richie Porte (Sky)

This isn’t really a race that suits Richie Porte — the climbs aren’t long enough for him to have a significant advantage — but it’s hard to imagine him not being there at the pointy end. He’ll likely get into the elite selection that’s likely to form in the closing circuit, but how he’ll fare in the final sprint is another question. Team Sky’s best option in the race might come from the likes of British national champion Peter Kennaugh who’s a big fan of a breakaway, even if he’s out on his own.

Women’s race

Ahead of the elite men’s race on Sunday the elite women will take to the roads of Geelong on Saturday for a 113km loop that’s the same as the men’s race minus the three closing circuits. We don’t normally preview National Road Series races, but it’s worth talking about this race, if only because of the strong field.

The women’s race doesn’t climb Challambra Crescent so it isn’t likely to be as selective as the men’s. Riders like Loes Gunnewijk and Gracie Elvin (Orica-AIS) relish the wind and might be tempted to try splitting the race apart along the coast in the conditions are favourable. A small group might go clear on the final climbs on the run-in to Geelong, but in all likelihood this will also be a sprint from a reduced group.

Giorgia Bronzini won the 2010 Road Worlds in Geelong. She'll be hard to beat there this weekend as well.
Giorgia Bronzini won the 2010 Road Worlds in Geelong. She’ll be hard to beat there this weekend as well.

It’s hard to go past Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle Down Under) if it does come down to a bunch kick, particularly given that Mel Hoskins (Orica-AIS) – who beat Bronzini twice in the Santos Women’s Tour last week – isn’t racing. Bronzini won the 2010 World Road Race in Geelong after getting over Challambra Crescent eight times and it’s hard to see her missing the important moves on this course. Wiggle Down Under also has the luxury of another two great sprinters on the startlist – Annette Edmondson and Chloe Hosking – but both will almost certainly be cast in a support role for Bronzini on the day.

Look for the likes of Roxsolt’s Tiffany Cromwell and Carlee Taylor, High5’s Ellen Skerritt and Tessa Fabry and Total Rush’s Ruth Corset on the climbs. And don’t write off Orica-AIS’s Valentina Scandolara — who’s fresh off an overall win at the Santos Women’s Tour — or Lizzie Williams if it comes to a bunch sprint.

Ella.CyclingTips editor Jessi Braverman will be live tweeting the women’s race at the @CyclingTipsLive Twitter account.

How to watch it

The race organisers have put together a helpful viewing guide if you’re heading down to the Surf Coast to watch the race on Saturday or Sunday.

If you can’t make it to Geelong, Channel 7 will be broadcasting the men’s race from 11am to 4pm (the race starts at 11.20am) on Sunday, the race leading into the network’s coverage of the men’s final at the Australian Open tennis tournament. The men’s race is also being streamed live on YouTube.

If you’re following from afar, you can stay up to date via Twitter using the #CadelRoadRace hashtag and by following the official account @CadelRoadRace

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