National Championship Road Race Preview
This Sunday afternoon, the battle for the green and gold will once again be on, as the Men’s Peloton fight it out for the Australian Road Race Championship. The course is a familiar one, with the Buningyong circuit well-known to the Aussie cycling public by now. 11.6km long, the men will do 16 laps for a total of 185km. The main obstacle is the Mount Buninyong climb (2.9km @ 5.3%), which isn’t brutal in isolation, but going up 16 times is leg sapping, to say the least. So how will it play out?
Due to the tough course, expect to see a small group arrive at the finish, usually via a late breakaway. Early-season form doesn’t help, as many of the big hitters just won’t have the legs to deal with 185km of full-gas racing only six days into the new year.
As Australia’s only World Tour Squad, Mitchelton-SCOTT will have a huge say on the race. With an unmatched amount of top-level talent here, they’ll decide which break gets away. For everybody else, it’s about making sure they get in that magic one. They boast the defending champ Alexander Edmondson, who last year attacked from the bunch in the final few laps and sprinted to the win from a group of two. Showing that he can handle the course, in what was a super aggressive edition last year, he should again be one of the leaders for the race’s big team.
Luke Durbridge had a disappointing finish last year, as he crashed in a technical section of the descent and broke his collarbone. With one of the country’s biggest motors, he’s always a threat here and has put in several good rides in the past. He’ll be an alternative threat for Mitchelton-SCOTT, as could Nick Schultz. Schultz is new to the squad, coming from Caja Rural, and has pedigree as a one-day racer, especially on tough courses like this. As a roughie, he might be a reasonable bet to pull off a surprise.
Caleb Ewan’s already got some new kit this year, having joined Lotto-Soudal from Mitchelton-SCOTT over the off-season, but he’d be pretty happy to swap kits again on Sunday evening. He showed his sparkling form at the Bay Crits this week, where he won two of the three stages, having been penalized for a mechanical mix-up in the other race, and if he arrives at the finish in the front group, it should be game over for everybody else. Ewan’s probably the neutral’s pick here; it’s always good to see the jersey consistently on the podium (which it will be if he’s wearing it), and the whole country is eagerly awaiting the biggest-year-of-his-career-2.0. Ewan will have to contend with the Mitchelton monster though, with only Adam Hansen for support. While the phrase “only Adam Hansen” is a bit of an oxymoron (it’s kind of like saying you’ve only got your Powerball winnings to do the grocery shopping with) but sheer numbers will make it difficult for Ewan on the day.
Nathan Haas will be one of the key players on Sunday, and probably the lead favourite. Haas is essentially the prototype of the rider that will succeed on this course, having taken over that mantle from the now-retired Simon Gerrans. He can climb, he can sprint, and loves a tough day on the bike; good qualities for this race. Put Heinrich Haussler in that category too; the Bahrain Merida man also rode well at Bay Crits this week and is showing form ahead of Sunday. Jay McCarthy was second last year behind Alex Edmondson and could contend again this year. He’s another man with a strong kick who can climb, add him to the long list of riders who like a hard race and winning from a small group
After his breakthrough win here two years ago, Miles Scotson spent his first two Pro seasons with BMC. Though it was quiet results-wise, he’s shown a steady progression and should be ready to explode with his new squad, Groupama-FDJ. It’s a bold choice for an Australian to move to the French-iest team in the peloton, a move that would be massively helped by him taking the National Champion’s jersey there too
So who’s the favourite? Our tip is Nathan Haas, but there’s a number of guys who can win from a small group like he can. No matter who wins, it’s gonna be one hell of a race.
See you back at the social club