So I finally figured out a format in which I can do my own unique way of doing Race Previews and Recaps. It’s called “5 Riders to Watch”, and while it sounds like a ripoff of what inrng does, the idea around it is focusing on a select few riders who have a great chance of winning in 5 separate categories, before giving my pick of the bunch in the wrap-up. That doesn’t mean I’ll miss any of the key details, such as a preview of the course! Once the race has been ran, I will review the 5 picks as well as giving a general overview of how the race was won (sorry, Cosmo). If you have any suggestions for this in the future, shoot me a message in the comments or PM!
The (ironically named) Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race is a very new race. 2017 spells the 3rd edition of the race set up by one of Australia’s cycling legends, and the race is unchanged from previous editions – which means it isn’t really a Great Ocean Road Race, but rather just a race (it only follows the Great Ocean Road for about 7km). The first 100km loop around Geelong is hard, but not tough, and the circuit around the township is hilly but ends in a flat to favour the sprinters in a bunch finish. Its promotion to the WT means that the competition will be fierce down under, and will be a great set up for the classics season coming up in February/March to test the waters with new riders, new teams and new squads.
The first 60km out of Geelong is pretty dead flat. Heading south for 20km until firing east towards Barwon Heads (for the sprint point), the riders finally see the Ocean for the first time there. After hitting Barwon Heads, they turn back west and follow the coast…kinda. They head a bit inland, taking a long route around Torquay (where the climbs start) and Bells Beach (where the KoM is, and the most beautiful spot to stay for the race). After that, the riders head inland, with the only notable passing site being Mount Moriac near 90km. I would not be surprised if a break was allowed to go out before being caught just before the 113km point where the circuit starts.
And what a nice looking circuit it is. The KoM hill in Highton is the star climb of the circuit at around 8km, but the flat finish provides for a fast sprint finish. The riders head around Queens Park before turning towards the city center where the finish line is, and turning onto Yarra St and then west again towards the Highton climb. It’s a beautiful circuit finishing on the Western Foreshore in Geelong, and should lead to an exciting finish. So, which riders are the focuses for this great race?
The Bookies Favourite: Danny Van Poppel + Team Sky
The Bookies Favourite category should be pretty obvious, but it’s who the pundits and the fans reckon has the best chance of winning the race. And it’s always hard trying to pick a favourite that the fans reckon will win without using a bookies guide (damn cycling betting markets), but you can’t go past Danny Van Poppel of Team Sky. Actually, you can’t go past most of Team Sky when you look at the loaded line-up, so I’ll discuss them a bit too.
First things first though, Flying Dutchman Danny has just finished a fruitless TDU, with 4 top 5’s, no wins and a 2nd on the Points Classification. While the team were split between Henao’s GC ambitions and Van Poppel’s sprinting, Van Poppel always managed to put out consistent performances rivaling super-strong Caleb Ewan and double world champ Peter Sagan. At the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race though, he doesn’t have to deal with either of them, and has a team behind him dedicated to getting him to the finish with the best chance of winning.
Looking at the start list, his sprinting ability is almost unrivalled: Sam Bennett could challenge him but Bora would probably be riding for Jay McCarthy (mentioned later). Baptiste Planckaert is new to the WT and while he rode well at the TDU he can’t compete with Van Poppel. Nikias Arndt doesn’t look on form and Edward Theuns just can’t seem to get in the right place at the right time, getting boxed-in in poor places multiple times in the TDU (which were mostly his fault too). Van Poppel definitely appears to be the strongest sprinter on the start list if it comes to a bunch sprint, however, last year it finished in a strong solo break…
…so here is where the rest of Team Sky come into picture. Froome is, well, Froome – arguably the best GC rider and climber in the world at the moment, who should help the team navigate the hills or even go solo himself (he did it at the Herald Sun Tour last year). Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard and Sebastian Henao provide a great sprint leadout train for Van Poppel, which was used to great effect at the TDU, where you could often see them well in front by the time the sprint came (albeit, they often went too early and ran out of go-go-juice when it counted, which led to Bora and Orica pouncing, but I digress). Kenny Elissonde proved himself to be very handy for pulling his team-mates through the tough parts of the course, after helping Sergio Henao rejoin in the TDU heading up into Paracombe, saving his GC chances (it was futile in the end). Speaking of which, Sergio Henao gives Team Sky another winning option with his great climbing skill as well, however, he would prefer a bit more altitude if you look at the profile. You just can’t go past this lineup to get one winner over the line whether it be breakaway or sprint, and if the most likely way of victory is in a sprint, Van Poppel is the man to do it.
The Hometown Hero: Jay McCarthy
The Hometown Hero category is going to focus on a rider who’s racing in his home country, but is quite a big chance to win the race. And coming off the back of quite a great TDU – getting 3rd on GC and placing no worse than 14th on each stage – Jay McCarthy is definitely a great chance of flying the Australian flag to the win in Geelong on the weekend. You might be wondering why I chose a GC rider to win a race that is suited to the sprinters, but McCarthy is no ordinary GC rider, especially when on Australian turf.
McCarthy has proven himself to be a great puncheur and has contested sprints on multiple occasions on the WT, coming in the top 10 on Stage 21 of the Giro in 2016 and taking a stage at the TDU in 2016 in a tight sprint with Ulissi. His GC riding is undoubtably great, with two top 5’s at the TDU in 2 years (like an Aussie, peaking for the summer). A rider you can similarly compare him to (who is also riding this race) is Nathan Haas, he performs so well in the Australian summer, and as a puncheur/climber/sprinter/magician can target everything if he puts his mind to it.
His new team in Bora also provides him a solid base for a great leadout, much better than Tinkoff. Muhlberger and Postlberger worked insanely hard for the Bora squad at the TDU doing rouleur work and was 95% of the tough grind for the team (the other 5% being Sagan…just because) to get them into great positions for the sprints and climbs. Dedicated sprinters Sam Bennett and Pascal Ackermann could also target the win, but on Australian soil, you can’t go past the hometown hero – so they can form a great leadout for McCarthy along with Kolar and Selig being handy for the train. This team is built for this race, and McCarthy can be the captain to steer the Bora ship to victory without Sagan.
The Youngster: Taco van der Hoorn
The Youngster category is going to focus on the U23 (23-and-under) riders in a race and which one has the best chance of victory. And this was probably the hardest category to pick for this race because there aren’t many younger riders doing it (and I am saving one for the next section), but I am going to go a bit out there. Taco van der Hoorn from Roompot comes into 2017 with his new team and high hopes of reliving some of the great form he had on the .1 and .2 circuit last season, and no, I didn’t pick him just for the name. With a win at An Post Ras in a solo break (plus 5 stage top 10’s) and 5 one day top 10’s at the tail end of last season, helping his team-mate to a win at the Grote Prijs Marcel Kint while also finishing 5th; he had a solid season at CT level, while his first year at Roompot means a step-up to the bigger leagues.
Roompot’s squad for the race is built for the hills – of which there are few – and it is debatable if Van der Hoorn ends up even contesting the sprint, but if he does, he can definitely sneak a top 10. From what I have seen, he definitely has good sprinting ability, and Roompot can help him over the hills if need be. However, he might also target the break, or solo break near the end, which has netted him a few wins in the past – and in those situations he has an ability to climb (albeit not great) and can win in a bunch sprint. I am relying on PCS quite a bit here as I have only watched highlights of him (and, if /u/Schele_Sjakie on Reddit reads this, I am so very sorry), but he does look like quite a good rider for the future on Roompot who can target the classics in his later career. This race definitely isn’t the little league, but for him, let’s hope he gets the best possible result to kick start his career even further.
The Unknown Entity: Scott Bowden
The Unknown Entity category is going to focus on a couple of things; how well known a rider is, and how strong their team is. You won’t find a rider who rides for a WT team in the Unknown Entity category, that is for sure. And the Unknown Entity for this race is one who can climb, but also has demonstrated great rouleur ability and isn’t afraid of a punchy finish. 21-year-old, first year road race pro (after switching from MTB) Scott Bowden, riding for the Korda Mentha Australian National Team. While he has ridden in the Olympics, and done a few Road Nats in the U23 category, he just signed his first pro contract with Aussie CT super-team IsoWhey SwissWellness with great hopes of a great future.
If you look deeper into his previous races (not just pro but amateur Aussie races too), you see his great knack of just rolling on at a high speed before contesting a punchy finish. At Road Nats this year, he finished 6th but put in a ripping effort over all the climbs and contested the reduced bunch sprint. At the National Criterium Championships, he also brought over himself solo from the peloton to the break, which was almost 1 minute ahead, to contest the final sprint. So, he can ride fast. And he can shut down breaks, make breaks and still contest the sprints at the end. For a 21 year old, he is a bloody versatile rider. The parcours in Geelong isn’t awesome for him; although it’s quite an undulating circuit he would prefer a hillier finish than what has been served. He is definitely unknown headed into this race, and I have no idea what trick he can pull out of the bag, but I hope for his sake it’s a marvelous one because he will be on the big stage in the years to come.
The Previous Winner: Peter Kennaugh, but…
The Previous Winner category is, well, focusing on the bloke who won this race 12 months ago. However, in terms of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, it has little to no significance as Peter Kennaugh isn’t riding to defend his title in 2017. So…um…a little improvisation, last year’s second place getter Leigh Howard will take his space, who is riding for his new team Aqua Blue Sport after IAM Cycling went bust in the new year. The new Irish PCT team has a great support base for this race and is quite a big focus for their year in 2017, so Leigh Howard should get quite a lot of help in Geelong.
Whether Aqua Blue Sport will ride for Howard is the big question in his hopes of improving from last years edition. Using the hometown theory, they would let him ride this for the win, and he is a very good chance of winning it (even though it’s a stronger field than previous years). However, Michel Kreder can also go for the win and it isn’t clear who they will ride for. Either way, their team revolves around Kreder/Howard and whoever goes will have good support from Koning and Gate in the sprint train and Warbasse/Dunne/Watson for protection through the race. If Howard gets the chance, it will allow him to show his potential as a rider and if he performs well, he can get the full support of a team behind him for the rest of the season which will allow him to flourish.
The Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race has really gone gangbusters in the past few years, going from .1 to .HC to WT in 3 years. It’s now a bonafide race, getting teams from all over the world and focusing on another part of Australia built for cycling races. It’s a stunning and scenic ride and for the years to come I hope it stays this popular. Oh…and my pick for the race is Jay McCarthy, with Van Poppel and Nathan Haas rounding out the podium – I am hopeful for the Aussies in the season they normally peak for and I hope they can finally win an edition of this great race. For now, I’m out.
~ The Cycling Raven