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The Australian Road National Championships are underway in Ballarat for another year. There’s been a calendar reshuffle this time around, with the time trials now closing out the carnival, but the road races still fall on the weekend.
On Sunday morning, the combined U23 and elite women’s field will take to the slopes of Mt. Buninyong to decide who will wear the green and gold for the next 12 months. Read on to find out what you should know about the race and which riders to keep an eye on.
Starting at 8:30am on Sunday morning, the women’s road race will comprise nine laps of the 11.6km Mt. Buninyong circuit for a total of 104 tough kilometres.
The circuit will be familiar to anyone that’s watched an Aussie Nationals road race in the past 12 years. It’s the exact same course that was used last year when a short deviation through Federation Uni (the Nationals’ title sponsor) was added to proceedings.
Starting and finishing in the centre of Buninyong the course is defined by a 2.9km stepwise climb partway up Mt. Buninyong. From there the course undulates for much of its remainder, passing through Federation Uni, before descending back into Buninyong.
It’s a tough course — a course that tends to rule out the purest of sprinters, and also the purest of climbers. Instead it’s a strong all-rounder that usually tends to come up trumps in Buninyong.
How it might play out
To get a sense of how Sunday’s race might unfold, we can take a look at the past 12 editions — every edition since the Nationals returned to Buninyong in 2007. Of those dozen races:
– Three were won solo (2009, 2010, 2012)
– Four were won from a group of two (2008, 2015, 2016, 2017)
– All were won from a group of nine or smaller.
It’s clear from these numbers that the course creates a race of attrition, with only the strongest riders able to make it over Mt. Buninyong each time and down to the finish to contest the win. Expect a similar outcome on Sunday with the winner coming either from a small group or from a solo rider.
A small breakaway will likely get up the road early, but the most meaningful attacks will probably start in the final few laps once the field has been whittled down. Expect Mitchelton-Scott to be in every move that matters, and to be the instigators of many such attacks.
The riders to watch
Mitchelton-Scott will certainly go in as the team to beat. They’re the second-ranked team in the world, the best team in Australia by a wide margin, and a team full of potential (and former) winners.
Amanda Spratt – The obvious stand-out. Second at the hilly world championships in September and the third-ranked cyclist in the world, Spratt only seems to get stronger as the years go on. The 31-year-old has already won on this circuit twice (in 2012 and 2016) and she’s also been second, fourth, fifth and sixth.
Spratt was a level above everyone else in the lumpy opening stage of the Bay Crits, riding to a commanding solo victory, and she’s made it clear she’s motivated to perform well in Australia this summer. If you want a favourite, Spratt is it. Her best shot is a late move, either solo or with a select few, something her rivals will be acutely aware of. Unfortunately for those rivals, she’s not the only rider on Mitchelton-Scott that can win the race.
Gracie Elvin – A two-time winner at Mt. Buninyong and another rider who’s only become stronger in recent years. Her form at this time is something of an unknown (she didn’t race Bay Crits and will likely be peaking for the Spring Classics) but if she’s fit and motivated, she’s a real danger. Both her wins have come from a small-group sprint and it’s there that her best chances lie on Sunday.
Lucy Kennedy – The former runner had a breakout year in 2017 with third in this race and will again be right at home on the slopes of Mt. Buninyong. She might end up being one of the riders to attack earlier in proceedings, likely on the climb, but if she gets away solo, watch out.
Grace Brown – A very impressive third last year while racing for Holden Team Gusto, Brown steps up to the big leagues this year. She’ll likely be in a supporting role for the likes of Spratt and Elvin, but she’s a powerful rider in her own right.
While Mitchelton-Scott have perhaps the greatest chance of victory, they’ve got no shortage of challengers. Those challengers will take confidence from the fact that, despite Mitchelton’s strength, that team failed to reach the podium in last year’s race.
Shannon Malseed (Tibco-SVB) – The defending champion was perhaps underestimated last year, but won’t be again. Tenacious and motivated, Malseed will be keen for a repeat performance in her adopted hometown. Her best shot is sprinting from a small group, just like last year.
Brodie Chapman (Tibco-SVB) – Chapman was the revelation of the 2018 Aussie summer. She was terrific in this event last year, battling it out with the very best to finish sixth and ultimately earn herself a ride at the Sun Tour. She went on to win that race. Chapman should feature on Sunday, particularly on Mt. Buninyong in the closing laps. Great climber, great descender, aggressive racer (as seen in her many attacks in the Nationals crit) — a real threat, particularly if she can get away on her own late.
Lauren Kitchen and Shara Gillow (FDJ – Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) – Both Kitchen and Gillow have performed strongly in the Nationals road race in the past, but both without finding the top step. Kitchen is best suited to a small bunch finish, while time-trialist Gillow will likely need to go it alone to win.
Kitchen was second in the sprint last year despite being in a long breakaway, and she was second in a small-group sprint in 2014 as well. She was also fifth in 2016 and ninth in 2015. Gillow, meanwhile, has finished inside the top 10 in six of the past seven editions, with a highest placing of third in 2015.
In short, it would be little surprise to see an FDJ jersey on the podium come Sunday afternoon.
Tiff Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM) – Always one to watch. The 30-year-old is always around the mark at Nationals but has never quite cracked the code. Since 2008, she has finished inside the top 10 every time except once, with a best result of second in 2012. She’ll be without teammates, but that shouldn’t stop her featuring late. Can Cromwell finally take the green and gold bands?
Chloe Hosking (Ale-Cipollini) – Hosking won a stage of the Bay Crits earlier this week despite feeling a bit off her best. While she’s regarded as a pure sprinter, the 28-year-old has had strong results at Buninyong in the past (a best of sixth in 2016) and has improved her climbing in recent years. She certainly shouldn’t be discounted.
Sarah Gigante (Roxsolt-Attaquer) – Gigante dominated last year’s U19 Road Nationals (and Track Nationals for that matter) and this year takes a step up to the U23 ranks. If all goes to plan, she should win the U23 title. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the 18-year-old feature high up among the elites too.
Peta Mullens (Roxsolt-Attaquer) – After winning the final stage of the recent Bay Crits, Mullens said she’ll take on more of a mentoring role this season, including for the likes of Sarah Gigante. But with the form she showed at Bay Crits, and in the Nationals criterium, Mullens is clearly flying. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Mullens repeat her victory from 2015.
How to watch
The women’s road race will be broadcast live via SBS TV, SBS On Demand, the SBS Cycling Central website, and Fox Sports TV between 10am (90 minutes after the start) and 12pm AEST. The social media hashtag you’ll want is #RoadNats.
Of course, if you can, it’s well worth catching the race live in person, particularly from the slopes of Mt. Buninyong!
Who do you think will win on Sunday, and how? What would you like to see happen?