Challambra Crescent, as used in the 2010 Road Worlds, is the perfect launchpad for a late attack.

Preview: The 2016 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

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The Cadel Evans Great Ocean Race is back in 2016 for its second edition and this time around the elite men’s race has been upgraded to 1.HC status (the second-highest classification for one-day races). Introduced as a tribute to one of Australia’s greatest-ever cyclists, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race features a course that was partially designed by Evans himself and is a race that attracts a strong international field.

In this preview, CyclingTips editor Matt de Neef previews the elite men’s event at the 2016 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, considering the course, how the race might pan out and which riders might be worth keeping an eye on come Sunday.

The course

The course for the 2016 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (CEGORR) remains unchanged from last year’s inaugural edition.

As noted last year, the race barely visits the Great Ocean Road at all, despite it’s name. Just 6.6km of the race’s 174km are on the famous tourist route and the sections that are used aren’t the sections around Lorne that often feature in tourism brochures.

That said, the CEGORR is still a picturesque race. The coastal section near Bells Beach and Thirteenth Beach is undeniably stunning, particularly when viewed from the air.

The courses for the men's and women's CEGORR are the same up until Geelong where the men do three laps of a 20km finishing circuit.
The courses for the men’s and women’s CEGORR are the same up until Geelong where the men do three laps of a 20km finishing circuit.

The 174km race comprises two main sections. The first of these is a 113km 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 also quite minor and it seems unlikely that they’ll have any real impact on the race.

Strong winds are more likely to affect the race in this opening loop than the short hills. In last year’s race Cannondale-Garmin attempted to split the race apart near Barrabool, wreaking havoc on the peloton.

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

The second part of the race comprises three-and-a-half laps of a finishing circuit. The riders join the circuit roughly halfway through, shortly before hitting the Queens Park Road climb 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 final three laps of the 20.2km closing circuit begin.

The cornerstone of the circuit is the extremely steep climb of Barwon Boulevard and Challambra Crescent; a climb that also featured in the 11 laps of the 2010 Worlds finishing circuit. 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 steep Queens Park Road/Melville Avenue climb again before reaching the Hyland Street climb with 46.5km, 26.3km and 6.1km left to race. After descending back to the Geelong waterfront, it’s a dead flat (although potentially wind-affected) run-in to the finish.

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.

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

Last year’s CEGORR was decided in a reduced bunch sprint from eight riders after the peloton split on the final lap around Geelong. While we’ve only got that one race to draw on when predicting Sunday’s outcome, it seems likely that we’ll see a similar result.

Crosswinds in the coastal section of the ride might serve to split the peloton, but in all likelihood it will be a large group that reaches the finishing circuits together. From there it will likely be a race of attrition in the hilly, finishing laps as the peloton is progressively thinned down.

There’ll be no shortage of attacks — it just depends on whether anyone can get away from what remains of the peloton.

The favourites

Here are some of the riders that should be in with a chance of victory on Sunday:

Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge)

This race has Simon Gerrans written all over it. We know “Gerro” is in sparkling form, having just won two stages and the overall at the Santos Tour Down Under. And with short climbs and a likely small-bunch finish, the CEGORR parcours suits Gerrans perfectly.

Gerrans didn’t race the inaugural edition after breaking his collarbone in the off-season, but that shouldn’t be a hindrance in any way. Expect to see Orica-GreenEdge take control of the pacemaking in the peloton, as they did all week at the Tour Down Under, before setting Gerrans up in the final lap.

There’s no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to bike racing, but if everything goes Orica-GreenEdge’s way, Simon Gerrans should win on Sunday.

Nathan Haas (Dimension Data)

In the absence of last year’s winner, Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep isn’t at the race), and with second-placed Simon Clarke also missing from the startlist (Cannondale isn’t racing), Nathan Haas deserves a spot among the favourites on the basis of his third place last year. But even without that result, Haas would be worth keeping an eye on anyway.

Like Gerrans, Haas is a strong climber with a punchy finish and if it comes down to another small-bunch sprint, the Canberran should feature. Whether Haas can outsprint the in-form Gerrans remains to be seen but regardless, the 26-year-old deserves to be listed among those with a genuine shot at victory.

Rohan Dennis (BMC)

Rohan Dennis mightn’t have been able to defend his Tour Down Under title last week, but the South Australian will still be very dangerous come Sunday. He was on the podium on two stages of the TDU (both in reduced bunch sprints) and he blitzed the time trial at the Australian Road Nationals earlier this month.

Dennis should finish in the top five on Sunday, regardless of which way the race goes. If it comes down to a small group at the end, Dennis should be there. And if he’s got the legs to attack in the final circuit around Geelong, he’ll be hard to stop if he can open a small gap and time-trial away.

Ben Swift (Sky)

Swift had a solid start to his season at the Tour Down Under last week, taking seventh and sixth in two big-bunch sprints, and second behind Gerrans in the reduced-bunch kick on stage 4. Swift should be able to get over the short and sharp climbs in the Geelong circuits but as with Haas, the issue will be whether Swift can out-sprint Gerrans at the end.

Other riders to watch

Here are a few riders that are worth keeping an eye on:

Cameron Meyer (Dimension Data)

Cameron Meyer was quiet during last week’s Tour Down Under but his ride to second place in the Australian Road Nationals earlier this month shows he’s in good form. Whether Meyer gets a shot at victory depends, at least in part, on how Dimension Data approaches the race. Will they be all-in on Haas? Will Meyer get the nod? Will it be a case of seeing who has the legs?

If Meyer is in the mix on that final lap around Geelong, keep an eye on him — he climbs well, can get away solo when he needs to, and he has a punchy finish.

Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge)

The chances of Caleb Ewan getting to the finish of Sunday’s race with the lead group are slim — he admitted as much himself in his post-Tour Down Under press conference. But you just never know.

Think back to the 2010 Road World Championships on a similar circuit in Geelong. They raced up Challambra Crescent 11 times that day, and yet it was still a reduced bunch kick that decided the race. If, somehow, Ewan gets to the finish with the leaders, there’s only one man, on paper, that could challenge him for the win …

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data)

As with Ewan, Cavendish is going to struggle to get to the finish in the lead group, particularly given this is his first race of the year. But if he does somehow get there, and Ewan does too, it will be fascinating to see who comes out on top.

Rafael Valls (Lotto Soudal)

Last year’s Tour of Oman winner had a strong showing at the Tour Down Under, finishing sixth on the Corkscrew Road stage (in the lead group) and fifth on the Willunga Hill stage. It’s worth keeping an eye on the Spaniard in the closing circuits.

Peter Kennaugh (Sky)

The British national champion loves going on the attack, and he does a pretty impressive job of it too.

He might be cast in more of a supporting role for Ben Swift on Sunday but either way, expect to see Kennaugh impacting the race somehow. He was super aggressive in last year’s race en route to ninth place and we might see a similar performance this year.

The women’s race

On Saturday afternoon, the day before the men’s race, the elite women will take to the roads of the Surf Coast in a race that has been upgraded from the National Road Series race to a UCI 1.2 event.

The course is the same as the men’s race until it reaches Geelong. At that point, the women do a half lap of the finishing circuit, skipping Challambra Crescent but taking in the Queens Park Road/Melville Avenue and Hyland Street climbs.

Last year Rachel Neylan attacked on the closing circuit and rode her way to an impressive solo victory (and an Orica-AIS contract). She’ll be one to watch again this year but, as ever, she won’t be the only card Orica-AIS has to play. Newly crowned national champion Amanda Spratt is quite partial to a solo breakaway and has a decent kick as well.

Last year’s national champion Peta Mullens (Wiggle High5) is always a dangerous threat, while local riders Ruth Corset (Rush Women’s Team – runner up at Road Nationals), Miranda Griffiths (Holden Women’s Cycling) and Kate Perry (Specialized Women’s Team) shouldn’t be discounted either. International pro Tiffany Cromwell is guest-riding for the Boss Racing Team and is always competitive at hard, hilly races and would love to head over to the Ladies Tour of Qatar with a win already on the board.

Stay posted to Ella CyclingTips for post-race coverage from the women’s CEGORR.

How to watch the race

If you’re in Australia, you can catch the entirety of the men’s CEGORR live on Channel 7 from 11am AEST. This broadcast will also include highlights of the women’s race.

For those following from afar, your best bet is to follow the #CadelRoadRace hashtag on Twitter. Be sure to stay posted to CyclingTips for post-race coverage.

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