The final international races of the Australian summer of racing are set to play out at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race this weekend in Geelong, with the 143km Deakin University Elite Women’s Road Race first on Saturday and then the 176km men’s race on Sunday.
It’s been a January of triumph for some and missed opportunity for others, but this final one-day of racing offers one last chance after what has been a long wait for the return of racing in Australia. The home team, Jayco AlUla, will as always, be out for victory in front of their local fans and sponsors, particularly after those pandemic years without international racing on home soil and a relatively lean Aussie season so far, at least by usual standards, on both the men’s and women’s front.
Though the positive side of that for local supporters is that part of the reason the local team hasn’t been hitting the top of the podium so often is that other strong Aussie riders in other teams have been stepping up instead, from Grace Brown (FDJ Suez) and Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates) at the Tour Down Under to Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers) and Brodie Chapman (Trek-Segafredo) in the road races at the Australian National Championships.
The summer conditions and determination of the nation’s riders seem to have played a part in the success of riders from the nation so far, which may explain why our riders to watch are so heavily dominated by Australians. However, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race could play out in many ways and has a history of throwing up unexpected winners. That may make it hard to narrow down which riders to watch but is sure to make for some exciting racing come the weekend.
Deakin University Elite Women’s Race
Grace Brown has never looked anything but formidable this summer. Even when out there on her own during the road race at the Australian National Championships. Despite again and again being looked toward to chase down gaps and toughen the pace, she still managed to step onto the podium in second place, taking out the small group sprint behind solo victor Brodie Chapman (Trek-Segafredo).
Then when joined by her French team, FDJ-Suez, she had the backup she needed and proceeded to sweep up her first overall victory in a Women’s WorldTour stage race with a carefully considered build-up of bonus points and scorching chase to take victory on the final stage. True, she may be outpaced on the climbs, but just by a little, by some of her rivals, the ability to keep the gap small and then chase, or launch solo, could hold her in good stead on this course.
If all goes well for Brown on Saturday, she could well end the very first month of the new season with the jersey of the Australian time trial champion, as well as the ochre jersey of the winner of the Tour Down Under, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race wave trophy and the leader’s jersey of the Women’s WorldTour tucked in her suitcase – a haul worth paying excess baggage fees for.
Brodie Chapman undoubtedly buried herself in a support role at the Tour Down Under, she was, after all, a teammate to the three-time winner of the race Amanda Spratt who put up a valiant effort to make it a fourth, falling just ten seconds short.
Though the punchy climb of Challambra Crescent, twice on the agenda this year, and aggressive run into the line has Chapman’s name written all over it. She’s the type of rider who will roll the dice, and that’s often the type of rider who will end up on the top step of the podium at this race.
She has already proven how much the terrain suits her in previous years, twice finishing in the top ten, and she’s matured considerably since the race was last run in 2020 and is now also part of one of the wiliest and most experienced teams in the peloton with her shift to Trek-Segafredo. Plus, she’s wearing the jersey of the Australian champion, which will, of course, mean any move can hardly go unnoticed but being wary of a move and being actually able to do anything about it are two entirely different things.
Her teammate, Spratt, could too also just as easily find a place in the list of riders to watch, especially with the climbing legs she had on display at the Tour Down Under, but for the fact, we are trying to keep this list to one rider per team. There is no doubt that they will make a dynamic duo.
Jayco AlUla has put up some solid performances this summer, but the problem with being the only Australian WorldTour team across both the women’s and men’s pelotons is that the expectations are sky high. Even with Alex Manly taking a stage win at the Tour Down Under and Ruby Roseman-Gannon fourth on GC, there is a definite drive for more. In Manly and Roseman-Gannon, they have every reason to keep that hope alive in Geelong.
This, too, is another case of it could be Manly, it could be Roseman-Gannon, but we had to pick one. Manly is probably the more likely candidate if it comes down to a select group sprint, while Roseman-Gannon can perhaps hold firmer on the climbs at this point judging by the final stage of the Tour Down Under, where Roseman-Gannon came fourth overall, and at the National Championships road race where it was again just one step off the podium.
Having said that, it’s also not easy to bet against the two-time Bay Crits overall winner in a sprint either, which may have slightly tipped the balance in Roseman-Gannon’s direction, but either has an excellent chance on a course like this and as a combination that are well prepared to sacrifice for the other depending on the form of the day multiply their chances of success.
Chloe Hosking (Australian national team)
Chloe Hosking has won in Geelong before, taking the reduced bunch sprint to the line in 2018, and she’s loaded with an incentive to make the best of the race in 2023.
She may be one of Australia’s top sprinters – having a Commonwealth Games gold medal and La Course win on the Champs-Élysées among her victory total, which is just shy of 40 – but Hosking is facing a premature end to her cycling career after the collapse of the B&B Hotels team and with it a lead into retirement for the next two years where she could use her experience to mentor a new generation as well as racing the events, like the Tour de France Femmes, that she loves.
Now she is facing up to this race in Geelong with the Australian national team as either a last chance to attract the attention that she nets her another year – with a contract that recognises her value – or to deliver the final performance of a glorious career in front of an appreciative home crowd.
It will be a race to remember in Geelong for Hosking and all those who have enjoyed watching her through her 13 years of racing as a professional cyclist either way.
Danielle De Francesco (Zaaf)
The Australian National Road Series winner of 2022 has been remarkably impressive as she has made the step up to the professional cycling team Zaaf. In her nine days of racing, she’s only fallen out of the top ten twice and has landed in the top five in more than five times and one step shy of the podium on three occasions.
With results like those, it could hardly be a surprise if she moved onto it at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and, if not, then as the season progresses in Europe.
De Francesco hasn’t had a chance to try her form at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race before, having been a relatively recent transfer to cycling after switching first from open water swimming to triathlons and then road cycling.
Though with fourth on both stage 2 and stage 3 of the Tour Down Under, the 30-year-old has clearly shown she knows how to handle terrain with climbs and then a run to the finish line after. Saturday could well be the result that takes her to the podium.
There are certainly more riders that could feature at the race, which has a history of throwing up the unexpected, and while we can’t cover them all in details there are a few more that deserve a mention. EF Education-Tibco-SVB were one of the standout teams at the Tour Down Under, slotting three riders into the 10 and two in the top five, Georgia Williams and Krista Doebel-Hickok. Both look like serious podium chances Saturday with Williams finding a new lease of life in her new team and Doebel-Hickok bouncing back after her powerful end of season run in 2022 was interrupted by a broken collarbone at the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta.
Human Powered Health also cut a similarly impressive path in the South Australian race, with Henrietta Christie taking the best young rider white jersey and Nina Buijsman a third place on stage 2, which given it too had the climb and descent to the finish combination bode’s well for the Dutch rider on Saturday.
Emily Watts, of the newly formed women’s Team BridgeLane is another to look out for, as the sixth place at the Australian National Championships road race shows she has come into the start of the season with some solid form. Then there are a number of names on the Australian National team to look out for as if the the sprint scenario doesn’t work out for Chloe Hosking, Rachel Neylan who came second in 2016 is one to watch as is Matilda Raynolds, who came 15th in her last appearance at the race in 2019 and is determinedly chasing results that will give her that much sought after European contract.
Men’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race
TeamJayco AlUla team targeted the overall for the Tour Down Under and missed their major objective. They were close, however, with a stage win and second overall by Simon Yates, but it was Australian Michael Matthews who had a major time loss on stage 2 to take him out of GC contention. He settled for the green points jersey, and summarised the week as “not bad”, but certainly not great.
He quickly turned his attention from Adelaide to Geelong. A long, 176km rolling route like the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race suits the versatile style of Matthews, who can survive climbs and contest in the sprints. The road race at the Australian National Championships was 10km longer and he came away with the bronze medal. At last year’s Road World Championships, he also took the bronze across a challenging 270km route.
Now a veteran on the WorldTour since 2011, Matthews is accustomed to racing in Europe so has never lined up at the Cadel Evans Road Race. He has history in Geelong, winning the U23 road race at the Worlds back in 2010. He comes back to Geelong in top early-season fitness and fresh motivation. And he won’t be racing alone, so counting on support from Yates and strong riders like Lucas Hamilton and Chris Harper bode well.
Caleb Ewan (Australian national team)
As the race charges toward the Geelong waterfront for the final lap and Caleb Ewan is part of the peloton, or what is remaining with a reduced group, he’ll be a favourite to win his home race. Jayco-AlUla and UAE Team Emirates have the climbers to try to shake the sprinter on the final four circuits that charge up the menacing Challambra Crescent ascents, but Ewan has something to prove.
Ewan is racing with the UniSA-Australian national team rather than his Lotto Dstny ProTour team, which opted not to make the long trip to the Asia-Pacific region to begin the season. He began his season at Road Nationals, where he had not raced in four years. The criterium title fell to the break and in the road race, despite impressively holding firm on the repeated Mount Buninyong climbs through much of the race, he just got distanced on that final crucial one and came away with 18th.
Not all was lost, however, as a week later Ewan returned to the winner’s top step at the Schwalbe Classic, his third title in the criterium event. His hopes to continue the momentum at the Tour Down Under were dashed as despite delivering a scorching sprint on stage 1, he came from too far back, so ended up as the runner-up on stage 1.
He is now back at the Cadel Evans Road Race for a fifth time, with his best finish second in 2019. That year he survived the four passes over Challambra Crescent and was edged at the line by Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep). With another large group still together on those final circuits, Ewan will make the most of another opportunity.
The star for UAE Team Emirates to start January’s assault of the road season has been Aussie Jay Vine, winning the overall at Tour Down Under and the time trial victory at the Australian National Championships. At the end of the month, Vine however has made clear he’ll be turning his considerable power to assisting his teammates as they assisted him through South Australia. The strong team have a number of cards to play, but it is Swiss rider Marc Hirschi who looks among the strongest.
The former U23 road world champion adjusts to any terrain, and the more hills the better for a long, one-day race like the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. It is a first-time for the Swiss star to compete in this event, but this style of race is not too different than where he has won before. Last season Hirschi won four one-day races, beginning with the 172.7km Per Sempre Alfredo and ending with the 190km Veneto Classic.
In Geelong, it’s a different continent and a new year but the terrain suits Hirschi, and he has a strong climbing team to support his quest plus a solid performance at the Tour Down Under, finishing 11th on GC even as he rode in a support role, to indicate his form.
Israel-Premier Tech is looking to capture its first win of the season and will be heavily relying on riders like Simon Clarke and Daryl Impey to carry the team colours onto the podium in Geelong.
Both riders have extensive experience competing during the Australian summer racing calendar, with South Africa’s Impey twice winning the overall title at the Tour Down Under and three times on the podium in third place at Cadel Evans road race.
If we can only choose one rider per team, we pick Clarke, who finished second to Gianni Meersman in the inaugural edition in 2015. It’s been eight years since that performance, and he has gone on to major career highlights with stage wins at the Vuelta a España and, most recently, at last year’s Tour de France.
He’s had a strong start to this season, too, with a second place behind Luke Plapp in the road race at the Australian Championships. The undulating and technical route that features a few steep pitches is well-suited to Clarke, and he will undoubtedly have the extra motivation to gain a win on home soil before heading back to Europe and continuing to grasp the opportunities with both hands after his last minute contract reprieve at the start of last season. There is however one question mark, and that is whether the COVID-19 positive that kept him from racing the Schwalbe Classic curtain raiser criterium may have left any mark on his form.
One of the brightest talents on the WorldTour, Sheffield is off to a great start this season with a fourth place at the Tour Down Under. He undoubtedly would have liked to have been on the podium, but it was a consistent performance, nonetheless, behind overall winner Jay Vine, Simon Yates and Pello Bilbao, while he earned the event’s best young rider award.
A strong climber and a fast finisher, who excels on the powerful one-day terrain and stage races, the Cadel Evans race route could offer the perfect mix of hilly terrain to suit Sheffield. Watch for Sheffield along the four finishing circuits, where each lap includes the climb of Challambra Crescent in either a reduced group sprint or a successful breakaway.
Ineos Grenadiers also have newly crowned national champion Luke Plapp on the startline, but Sheffield might be able to fly under the radar just enough to take advantage of a winning opportunity.
Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroën) was aggressive pursuing a result whenever he had the chance at the Tour Down Under and stepped onto the podium on the final stage. It was a good result but afterwards it was clear he wanted more – and of course Sunday’s race offers that chance. Patrick Bevin will also be back for Team DSM, hopefully fully recovered from the crash at the Schwalbe Classic that kept him from racing the Tour Down Under.
Soudal QuickStep are lining up with defending champion Dries Devenyns on the squad and with James Knox back after a frustrating disqualification, but perhaps the rider to watch from the team is the in form Swiss rider Mauro Schmid, who came third on the split up Victor Harbour stage at the Tour Down Under and fifth overall. There is also a new team stepping into the Australian summer in Geelong, the New Zealand-based 2023 addition to the Pro team ranks, Bolton Equities Black Spoke, who will no doubt be wanting to make an impact on their WorldTour debut.