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The Mars Cycling Australia Road National Championships are well underway in Victoria with the criterium and time trials titles having been decided already. This weekend the riders will take to the roads of Buninyong for the road races, culminating with the elite men’s road race on Sunday.
CyclingTips editor Matt de Neef put together this preview of the race, looking at the course, the contenders, other riders to keep an eye on and how you can watch the race.
As with last year, the elite men’s road race (and indeed all Nationals road races) will be contested over a 10.2km circuit that starts and finishes in the town of Buninyong, roughly 80 minutes west-north-west of Melbourne.
From the main roundabout in Buninyong the riders face a step-like, 2.9km uphill drag (average gradient 5%) on the Midland Highway and Mount Buninyong Road. From the KOM line the riders turn left and begin an undulating section of the course, before turning left on to Fisken Road at 5.7km. From here it’s more or less downhill all the way to the finish in Buninyong.
The elite men will tackle 18 laps of the course for a total of 183.6km.
On paper it’s not a particularly challenging course but the 18 times up Mt. Buninyong are enough to fatigue all but the strongest riders in the race.
It might take a few laps but we’ll almost certainly see a large breakaway get clear in the early stages, with all the big teams (Orica-GreenEdge, Drapac, Avanti, Budget Forklifts etc.) represented. The chances of that break surviving to the end are slim, particularly as the pace starts to increase on the climb in the closing laps.
Last year we saw a small, elite group get clear on the final climb and this seems to be the most likely outcome again on Sunday. The sprinters will be desperate to stay in contention over the climb as the finishing straight is perfect for a pure sprinter. All that said, we’ve seen two solo victories here in the past few years and with a host of very strong time-trialists in the field another such victory is not out of the question.
Here are some of the riders that we expect to be in the mix on Sunday.
Cadel Evans (BMC)
It’s hard to go past Cadel. He was second last year behind Simon Gerrans and with Gerro out of the race with a broken collarbone this is Cadel’s chance. Of course he’ll have extra motivation given it’s his last national championships and you’d think Cadel will give it everything for a shot at wearing the green and gold bands in his last two races as a professional.
Evans has just two teammates in the race — Rohan Dennis and Campbell Flakemore — but as he showed last year (when he had none) that he doesn’t need a lot of support to be there when it counts.
Richie Porte (Sky)
There’s something very appealing about the prospect of Richie Porte leading Team Sky at the Giro d’Italia while wearing the Australian national champion’s jersey. He’ll already do that in the time trials, thanks to a stomping ride in yesterday’s ITT championships, but the Tasmanian will be more than keen to do the double like Luke Durbridge did in 2013.
Like Evans, Porte goes into the race with only minimal support — just Nathan Earle by the looks of the startlist — and, like Evans, that probably shouldn’t hinder Porte’s chances.
If it comes down a small group at the finish, like it did last year, and if Porte’s there, like he was last year, he might struggle to outsprint the likes of Cadel Evans. Perhaps his best chance is to use some of his time trialling form and get clear solo in the closing stages … not that anyone’s likely to give him much latitude.
Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo)
Rogers is the only one of the big contenders to race the criterium, the Nationals time trial and the road race this week, and he certainly wasn’t just making up the numbers in the first two. He was in a dangerous move in the criterium on Wednesday and he was eighth in yesterday’s ITT. In his first nationals in several years Rogers looks more than up for it, and will be closely marked come Sunday. He will certainly be hard to miss — he’ll be the only rider in the fluoro yellow colours of Tinkoff-Saxo.
Once a pure time-trialist, Rogers has slowly reinvented himself to the point where he won three Grand Tour stages last year. He can climb (see his exploits on Monte Zoncolan at the Giro), he can descend (see his win on stage 16 of the Tour de France) and he can ride off the front of the bunch (see stage 11 of the Giro). He’s a three-time world time trial champion and former Australian time trial champion, and you can bet he’d love to add “Australian road race champion” to those accolades.
Simon Clarke and Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge)
In the three years the team has existed Orica-GreenEdge hasn’t lost an Australian elite men’s road race title (nor a women’s road race title for that matter). They normally go into the race with a numerical advantage but this time around, without Gerrans and others, the Aussie WorldTour team is slightly outnumbered. They’ve got eight on the startlist but Drapac, for example, has 14.
Even without as many options in 2015, Orica-GreenEdge will still be well and truly in the mix. It’s hard to know who will be the team’s protected rider on the day — Simon Clarke or Cameron Meyer. The team will probably look after both and assess the situation in the closing laps.
Clarke is probably the strongest climber in the team, but Meyer was fourth last year. Either way, the team still has more cards to play than just about any team in the race and, even though Drapac might have more riders, GreenEdge is arguably still the stronger team.
If it comes down to a small group at the end expect at least one Orica-GreenEdge rider to be there. Who that is remains to be seen.
There are a number of riders that, should the cards fall their way, could be in contention for victory on Sunday. Here’s a selection:
Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge)
If Ewan can manage to get himself over the Mount Buninyong climb with the lead bunch 18 times he should win the race. That will be far from easy though — no-one will want the 20-year-old to be there at the finish and other teams will be doing all they can to dislodge him.
Steele Von Hoff (NFTO)
As with Ewan, if Von Hoff can drag himself over the climb and be in the lead group coming into Buninyong the final time, he’s a red-hot chance. He finished eighth last year, just 48 seconds back on the leading trio, and he will have extra motivation this year.
A win here would be a great way to stick it to Garmin-Sharp management which let Von Hoff go at the end of 2014 (although Steele will tell you he’s not worried about that). But perhaps more importantly, the Victorian is looking for a spot on the composite national team for the Tour Down Under, Cadel’s Race and the Sun Tour. If he can perform well here, he’ll be able to get in some valuable racing before heading to Britain to join NFTO in March.
Jack Bobridge (Budget Forklifts)
What better way to train for an upcoming attempt at the Hour Record than a long, solo breakaway in the national championships? Bobridge won this race in 2011 with a solo breakaway and it’s not beyond him to do so again.
Unlike some of the other pure time trialists in the race — Rohan Dennis and Luke Durbridge, say — Bobridge won’t be on domestique duties, which will give the South Australian freedom to ride as he sees fit. Bobridge also has a strong team around him which will give him a few cards to play.
Others to watch
Here are a handful of riders that we’ll be keeping our eye on during the race on Sunday, not necessarily because they’ll win it, but because they’re likely to animate the race.
Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal)
Adam Hansen goes into the race as the only Lotto Soudal rider but that’s unlikely to stop him featuring. Expect to see him go on the attack at some point, most likely on the hill in the closing laps.
Al Iacuone won the national road title back in 1994 and 20 years later, in last year’s race, he was a crowd-favourite, getting himself in the day’s long breakaway. “Alby” will be there again on Sunday and will no doubt try his hand at the early escape again. He won’t win the race, but there’s something great about seeing a past champion mixing it up with the pros of today.
Darren Lapthorne (Drapac)
“Lappers” won this race back in 2007 and was sixth last year. He’s unlikely to win on Sunday, but he’s a good bet for a top 10. Expect to see his Drapac teammates all over the race and in the breakaways and for Lapthorne to come out and play in the final laps.
The Bureau of Meteorology’s forecast for Sunday reads: “Rain. Possible heavy falls.” If it does rain it shouldn’t effect the race too much, except perhaps for the descent down Fisken Road. The descent is not super-technical but it is tight enough that it could favour the more accomplished descenders.
If the conditions get worse than a few rain showers, Cadel Evans’ chances of victory only increase. As a former mountain biker his technical and descending skills are among the best in the world and he’s no stranger to winning when the weather is bad.
How to watch the race
As part of Cycling Australia’s new broadcast deal with Channel Nine and Fox Sports, the race will be broadcast live in Australia on Gem and Fox Sports from 2pm to 4pm. The presentation is reportedly scheduled for 3.40pm which means roughly the last five or six laps will should be shown live. There’s also a one-hour highlights package being shown on both networks beforehand, wrapping up the Road Nationals carnival thus far (including Saturday’s elite women’s road race).
If you’re anywhere in the vicinity of Buninyong, it’s well worth coming along to watch the race. There will be park-and-ride buses ferrying spectators from Buninyong up the hill on the day — don’t drive your car on to the course.
And if you’re following from afar, your best bet is to stay posted to the #RoadNats hashtag on Twitter. The race itself starts at 10:50am.
Of course, please be sure to return to CyclingTips after the race for the results and the race report.