National Under 23 Road Race Preview
Predicting the Under 23 National road race resonates with my first Tuesday in November. It was my first time at "the races" and I spent the day tentatively approaching the TAB to donate 10 dollars on another horse that had the best name. At the Nationals there are "favourites" but as per betting on the Melbourne Cup, it's a game of bingo.
The interesting part of this event is that when you become a "known" or an "in the system" rider, the less important the race becomes. For example, last year the race for Sam Jenner was all or nothing. His entire year was dependent on the long approach he took to claim the national title. Win the road race and your Under 23 career is set in stone! You will be selected in arguably the best under 23 program in the world (Mitchelton Scott) and be under the watchful eye of recruiters. In 2018, Jenner has a contract in hand, so he may question the importance of being at his peak on the 6th of January when Road Worlds are at the latter end of September. The Nationals are important, but it's no guarantee of a professional contract.
Jenner's goal for this year; "I have ambitions for results in U23 Liege, Baby Giro & Tour de L’Avenir. These races really have a hype about them and getting a result could really set me up for the next few years." The races mentioned are in April and September - it's tricky to be moving in the first week of January and still climbing the French Alps with the best under 23s in the world at September's Tour de L'Avenir.
On top of a differing athlete priority, the event can easily get out of hand for the main men, as there are no full teams to bring back a breakaway. Alas, a group of 10 riders can quickly become the main peloton. History has shown that the favourites will be closely marked, leaving a wonderful opportunity for a talented group of up and coming riders. If I was an Under 23 trying to make my presence felt, a 2017 Jenner esque long range swing would be the way to go.
For me, it's hard to go past Rob Stannard. The boy from Sydney has come off a successful season in Europe and he packs all the requirements for the Buninyong course. Stannard has clear aspirations for this year's event; " My primary goal for 2018 is to win the race (nationals road race) and be selected in the UniSA team for the Tour Down Under".
Alex Porter is a name that should be noted. He's a trackie but has signed for the Bennelong SwisseWellness in 2018 - a road specific team. The question for Porter is his how well he's balanced the track/road program. "I’m feeling really good but I’ve had much more of a track focus over the last few months as Commonwealth Games selection is coming up".
With big ambitions throughout the season, Jenner's 2018 National campaign will be interesting. No doubt he will be up there but as to if he has the form and hunger of last year would be my questioning. Albeit, he says "The sensations are actually pretty good at the moment I think. I’m actually a bit stronger now than this time last year. " Plus Jenner has a full European season under the belt and a very advantageous race brain.
Harry Sweeney has signed on the dotted line along with Stannard, Scottson and Jenner for Mitchelton Scott in 2018. I have an inkling that he could be really strong at this year's nationals. A morale-building 2017 and a full road season, could be the difference for Sweeny in this year's race. He also has the support of two very talented teammates. Jenner: "I’d like Harry to pull it off after seeing such a rough year he had last year topped off by the determination he has shown in sticking at it." When it comes to the crunch, the advantage of two teammates by his side could be the difference!
The dark horse: James Whelan. Whelan an ex-runner has shown he has a serious engine at the Tour of Tasmania and would be suited to a course like this - a showdown on the final climb could see Whelan implode the Peloton.
All that said, there's plenty of others I haven't mentioned. Callum Scottson is always strong, along with Matt Ross, Drew More, Dylan Sunderland and Maccie Carter, to name a few will ensure this is an animated race with a whole lot of unknown.
But for me, the trifecta of Whelan, Porter and Stannard will salute.......
See you back at the social club,