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With the criteriums and time trials now complete at the 2017 Australian Road National Championships, all attention turns to the road races. The final of those is the elite men’s road race, held on Sunday afternoon.
In this preview, CyclingTips’ Australian editor Matt de Neef has the info you need to know before tuning in to watch the elite men battle it out for the green and gold jersey.
The course is the same it’s been for several years — laps up and around Mt. Buninyong.
Anyone that’s watched an Australian Nationals road race in recent years will be well familiar with the 10.2km circuit being used this weekend.
From the centre of Buninyong, 80 minutes west-north-west of Melbourne, the riders face a step-like, 2.9km uphill drag (average gradient 5%) on the Midland Highway and Mt. 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.
The Mt. Buninyong climb makes it a tough course and the 18 laps are enough to fatigue all but the strongest riders in the race. Expect the peloton to be a little bit smaller each time around.
The race is likely to be won from a small group or by a solo rider.
The Nationals road race has been held on the Mt. Buninyong circuit 13 times in the past 15 years and on seven of those occasions (more than half), the race has been won by a solo rider. On the remaining six occasions, the winner came from a small group.
Drilling down further, we can see that the biggest winning group was just six riders, when Heinrich Haussler won in 2015. On four occasions it was a group of three, and on the one other occasion just two riders reached the finish together.
This is all to say that Sunday’s race is likely to be another race of attrition, the Mt. Buninyong climb thinning out the field until only the very strongest remain. We might see another small group reach the finish together, or perhaps we’ll see another solo victory (but probably not as long-range as Jack Bobridge’s last year).
One thing seems almost certain — we’ll see a big breakaway get up the road early on, as we almost always do on this circuit. Expect IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness (formerly Avanti-IsoWhey) to be heavily represented — they’ve got the biggest team on the startlist and will be looking to use their numbers to good effect.
Simon Gerrans is the big favourite but he’ll have plenty of competition.
In many ways the Mt. Buninyong circuit is perfectly suited to Simon Gerrans. It’s a long, hard race with plenty of climbing and it often ends in a small bunch sprint. Indeed, any time Gerrans lines up at the Australian Nationals road race, he does so as one of the favourites.
He’s won on this circuit twice before, in 2012 and 2014, both times from a group of three. And he always comes into January with terrific form. Quite simply, he’ll be the one to beat on Sunday.
Perhaps the only question about Gerrans’ chances are around the team support he’ll have. With just five teammates on the startline — fewer than in recent years — Gerrans likely won’t have the numbers to chase down breakaways at will. If a strong break gets up the road and they work well together, Gerrans might be caught out.
One of Gerrans’ teammates, Caleb Ewan, is also another genuine contender. He wasn’t in the mix last year, but in 2015 he finished second behind Heinrich Haussler in a small bunch sprint. If Ewan can get himself to the finish in the lead group, there are very few people on the startlist that will be able to beat him. As ever, it will be interesting to see how Orica-Scott play their cards on Sunday, even if they are holding fewer than normal.
Last year’s winner Jack Bobridge is now retired but runner-up Cameron Meyer is racing on Sunday.
He doesn’t have a team in 2017 and is mainly focused on the track, but he’s in good form, he’s motivated, and he wants a good result to get a ride at the Tour Down Under. He also has a great record on the Buninyong circuit — in addition to his second last year, he was fourth in 2014 and sixth in 2011. Expect Meyer to be there when it counts.
Meyer’s former teammate Nathan Haas (Dimension Data) also needs to be respected. He was fourth last year, second on the Buninyong circuit in 2011 in the U23 race, and is perfectly suited to the course. He climbs well, can be very aggressive when he needs to be, and has a powerful sprint from a small group.
Pat Lane (IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness) finished third in last year’s race and shouldn’t be discounted in 2017. He’ll have 12 teammates on the startline — the biggest team in the race by far — and will likely be one of just several options for the team. Watch for Lane to be aggressive in the final laps and to try and get away on his own or in a small group.
Beyond the big favourites, there are several other riders with a shot at victory.
Chris Hamilton steps up to the WorldTour in 2017 with Team Sunweb and will be racing the Road Nationals as his team’s sole representative. He won the U23 men’s road race on the same circuit last year, having gotten away with just one other rider for company (Lucas Hamilton — no relation). He’ll find it difficult to do the same in the elite ranks, but Hamilton is an aggressive rider with a huge engine and needs to be marked.
Another former Praties/Genesys/Avanti rider that deserves a mention is Ben Dyball. The former U23 champion is without a contract this year, despite having won the Tour of Tasmania late last year. He comes into January with terrific form — he rode a super time trial on Thursday to finish third — and he has a point to prove. He’ll be hoping to secure a Tour Down Under spot with a good result, something he’s more than capable of.
In his first race for Dimension Data, Lachlan Morton might find himself working for Nathan Haas, or he might get the chance to ride for his own shot at victory. The 25-year-old can seriously climb — he won the Tour of Utah last year — and is a genuine threat if the race pans out in his favour.
The same could be said of Bora-Hansgrohe recruit Jay McCarthy. The 24-year-old showed at last year’s Tour Down Under that he has a strong sprint at the end of hard, hilly races and the Buninyong circuit suits him. He was fifth last year, sixth in 2013, fourth in the U23 race in 2012 (when Rohan Dennis won) and is more than capable of reaching the podium this weekend.
Luke Durbridge (Orica-Scott) appears to be in good form, judging by his second place in the time trial on Thursday. If things aren’t looking up for Gerrans or Ewan, Durbridge might be tempted to try and get away on his own and attempt a repeat of 2013 when he won solo by more than a minute.
Brendan Canty (Cannondale-Drapac) might still be relatively new to cycling, but the former runner is already one of the country’s strongest climbers. He should be able to stay with the big names each time over the climb, and if it comes to a small group, he too is in with a shot of reaching the podium.
For other dark horses, consider the contractless Sam Spokes (seventh and fifth the past two years), Nathan Earle (UKYO), Lachlan Norris (UnitedHealthcare), Adam Phelan (in his last race) and Travis Meyer (likewise).
It’s going to be a warm day with a bit of wind around.
At the time of writing, the Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting a maximum temperature of 31ºC for Sunday — not the hottest day ever for a Aussie Nationals road race, but warm enough that the conditions will take their toll.
The forecast also suggests a west to southwesterly breeze of 15 to 25 km/h, which would mean a tailwind up Mt. Buninyong. This might have the effect of making it a little easier for riders to stay with the peloton up the climb, but not by much.
You can catch the race live on TV, online or in person.
The Australian Road Nationals returns to SBS TV in 2017 with Sunday’s coverage starting on SBS Viceland (formerly SBS2) at 1pm AEST. The broadcast will contain an as-live presentation of the closing stages of the elite women’s race (as Channel Nine did last year) before cutting to live coverage of the elite men’s race.
The broadcast will also be available for streaming online, through the SBS Cycling Central website, the SBS OnDemand mobile app and the new FreeviewFV mobile app.
If you’re not able to watch on TV or catch a live stream, stay posted to the #RoadNats hashtag on Twitter for live updates from the race.
Of course, if you’re in the area, you should definitely try to get along and watch the race live. Mt. Buninyong is the place to be. Get there early to watch the elite women’s race (it starts at 8am) and bear in mind that there will be road closures in place from early in the morning. For information about shuttle services up the mountain, follow the link to the Cycling Australia website.
So, who’s your pick for Sunday’s race? Will Simon Gerrans win his third title, or will someone else earn a year in the green and gold stripes?