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This Saturday the elite women’s peloton takes to Geelong for the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. This one-day race — officially called the Deakin University Elite Women’s Road Race — is now in its fifth year and its fourth at UCI level. Read on for our preview of the race, including the riders to watch and how the race might play out.
The course for Saturday’s race is the same as the one that was used last year, a 113.3km loop that starts and finishes in the Victorian city of Geelong. From Geelong, the riders head south east towards Barwon Heads before following a lumpy route down the coast through Torquay and Bells Beach. From Bells the riders head inland then swing north before eventually heading east back towards Geelong.
Like last year, the race concludes with a partial lap of the circuit used in the men’s race; a course derived from the circuit used in the 2010 Road World Championships road race. Two climbs define this closing part-circuit: the brutally steep Challambra Crescent (1km at 10%) and the easier-but-still-not-easy Queens Park Rd/Melville Ave combination (which includes a 20% ramp).
The last of these climbs peaks roughly 6km from the finish. From there it’s a largely flat and downhill run-in, the last 1.8km of which is pan flat along the beautiful Geelong waterfront.
How it might play out
To get a sense of how Saturday’s race might play out, it’s worth considering the previous four editions of this race. Of those four, two were won solo, one was won from a group of five and one was won from a group of 21.
A reduced bunch sprint or solo winner is again the likeliest outcome for Saturday. The lumpy loop down the Surf Coast will serve to thin out the field and the tough climbs through Geelong will ensure that only the strongest can get to the closing kilometres with a shot of victory.
Expect to see a break (or several breaks) get away in the early stages but for it all to be back together on approach to Challambra Crescent. From there we’re likely to see the favourites start attacking one another, particularly on the two late climbs.
Riders to watch
There are a bunch of riders that are worth keeping an eye on during Saturday’s race. Some are out-and-out favourites, others might serve to animate the race, while others might are worthy of your attention for other reasons. Here’s a selection:
Chloe Hosking (Ale-Cipollini) – Hosking is the defending champion and probably the rider to beat if it comes to a reduced sprint from a group she’s in. She won last year from a group of 21 and she’ll be dangerous if the race comes back together in the closing kilometres like it did in 2018. Many teams (principally Mitchelton-Scott) will be looking to distance Hosking on the final climbs, but if the Canberran can be there at the end, she’ll be tough to beat. While she’s probably still not in peak form, a stage win at last week’s Santos Tour Down Under suggests her condition is good.
Just about the entire Mitchelton-Scott team – As ever during the Aussie summer, Mitchelton-Scott comes into Saturday’s race with a handful of compelling options.
Amanda Spratt won this race in 2016 when she attacked on the outskirts of Geelong and rode away to win solo by nearly a minute. She’ll likely be Mitchelton-Scott’s Plan A, and will probably opt for a similar tactic on Saturday. If other races so far this summer are anything to go by, we can expect Lucy Kennedy to be the first to attack and for Spratt to counter-attack once (or if) her teammate is caught.
Grace Brown has had a terrific start to the year, winning the Aussie time trial title (easily) and a stage of the Tour Down Under. She’s another rider who can get away on her own. Meanwhile, if it does come down to a reduced bunch sprint, watch out for Sarah Roy. She’s a fast finisher who’s consistently been around the mark this summer without yet landing on the top step.
A handful of Trek-Segafredo riders – Like Mitchelton-Scott, the new Trek-Segafredo squad has several cards to play. Chief among them is probably Ruth Winder who was second in this race two years ago. The 25-year-old American has taken a step up in the time since then (joining the WorldTour and winning a stage of the Giro Rosa) and she both climbs well and has a strong finish. She would not be a surprise winner.
Elisa Longo Borghini is the most credentialed rider on the startlist with two Giro Rosa titles among a bunch of other big wins. She’ll have bigger fish to fry this year, but a rider of the Italian’s calibre will be hard to dislodge if she’s got some decent form (and the inclination to push herself this early in the year).
It’s probably a little early in the year for Lotta Lepisto to be at her best too, but like Longo Borghini, the Finnish sprinter is a world-class rider. She showed at Race Melbourne on Thursday that she hasn’t come out of winter too badly at all, and if she can get over the late climbs and be there for a bunch kick, watch out.
Ashleigh Moolman (CCC-Liv) – The multiple-time South African (and African Continental) champion is starting her season in Australia for the first time and was in the mix at the Tour Down Under last week (before withdrawing after stage 2). The 33-year-old won’t be at her best this early in the year either, but she should still be able to climb with the best and will be very dangerous if she can get away in the closing kilometres.
Brodie Chapman (Tibco-SVB) – Chapman brings great form into Saturday’s race having won the inaugural Gravel and Tar La Femme in New Zealand last week. She’s a rider that loves going on the attack, and with her impressive climbing ability she’ll be one to watch late. She finished 15th last year, in the lead group. She should finish higher this time around.
Rachele Barbieri (BePink) – The Italian track/road racer has shown promising signs so far this month, finishing third and fifth on stages of the Tour Down Under. The biggest question for her will be whether she can get over the climbs at the front (she couldn’t last year). If she can, she could challenge Hosking and others in the sprint.
Rachel Neylan (Korda Mentha Real Estate-Australia) – Neylan won the inaugural edition of this race back in 2015 when she won by attacking solo in the finishing circuit. The 36-year-old is probably a few years past her best at this point, but a third overall at the Tour Down Under shows that she’s still very competitive indeed. One to take note of for sure, particularly if she decides to attack late on the Geelong climbs as she did in 2015.
Sarah Gigante (Korda Mentha Real Estate-Australia) – The 18-year-old is unlikely to win the race, but that was the case at the Aussie Road Nationals a few weeks ago too. It will be interesting to see how Gigante handles the pace of international racing at the elite level. Don’t be surprised to see her in the mix when it matters most.
Jaime Gunning (Specialized Women’s Racing) – Another rider on the rise, Jaime Gunning will be another young gun to keep your eye on. With breakout performances at the Aussie Nationals and Tour Down Under, Gunning could be a factor late in the race on those tough climbs around Geelong.
How to watch the race
In good news for Aussie viewers, Saturday’s race will be broadcast live on 7TWO and streamed online at 7plus. There will also be a highlights package screening on Channel 7, 7Two and 7plus on Sunday. For broadcast times, check out the Cadel’s Race website.
If you’re following the race on Twitter or Instagram, keep an eye on the hashtag #CadelRoadRace.
Who’s your pick to win the Deakin University Elite Women’s Race this weekend? And how will they do it?