Yet another show of strength from GreenEdge
1. Luke Durbridge has to be considered one of Australia's most promising talents and he's already delivering on his potential.
In 2013 he became the first male rider from the modern era to win the time trial and road race in the same year. Durbridge, at the start of just his second year as a professional put in dominant performances to capture both titles.
Durbridge has transformed himself ahead of this season and showcased his leaner, more-powerful self at the Mitchelton Bay Classic criteriums. He told us there that he was around two-to-three kilos lighter in 2013. It was at Port Arlington that he simply rode away from his breakaway group, riding solo to the line in what was a warning shot of things to come.
For a rider of his size, to be able to climb Buninyong at the pace he did and drop his breakaway companions along the way is remarkable. In fact, the fastest lap of the entire race was when Durbridge was away on his own with two laps to go. Expect even bigger things from the West Australian this season as his lines up at his next race, the Tour Down Under.
2. Orica GreenEdge treated this year's road race with a greater level of respect than in 2012.
They lined up in the kind of form necessary to play a number of cards on the day. Only two riders managed to finish the 163.2km race last year; the winner Simon Gerrans and Baden Cooke.
This year saw Michael Matthews, who recorded a DNF in 2012, finish in second spot behind the day's winner Durbridge. Gerrans, Cameron and Travis Meyer and Simon Clarke all finished in the group sprinting for the minor placings while Leigh Howard and Matt Goss, who unlike last year didn't have any injury concerns, also finished the race.
It may have played out very differently to the previous edition but the fact so many from the Australian ProTeam completed the race is an indication that a serious approach to preparation was taken.
3. The National Road Series may not have the exposure and budget of the European professional scene, however the talent being fostered within the domestic circuit is first-rate.
Riders the likes of Mark O'Brien (Raleigh), who spent the 2012 season with Budget Forklifts and Neil Van Der Ploeg (search2retain p/b health.com.au) were amongst some of the NRS riders who played a significant impact on the race. There are few who can follow O'Brien when the road heads upwards and Van Der Ploeg beat a host of professional riders including Chris Sutton (Team Sky), Gerrans and Dempster (NetApp-Endura) who sprinted for the minor placings.
Looking past those who finished in the main group, the performance by Bernard Sulzberger (Drapac) who was the last rider to be dropped by Durbridge and still managed to finish 10th must surely have earned him a spot in the Uni SA - Australia Team for Down Under. Huon-Genesys' Pat Shaw - a constant figure in the breakaway during recent years at Buninyong - along with his companions Blair Windsor (Budget Forklifts) and Cameron Bayly (search2retain p/b health.com.au) were also outstanding.
Durbridge was the sole European professional to feature in the early move with the remaining six riders hailing from some the domestic scene's top teams; Drapac, Huon-Genesys, search2retain and Budget Forklifts.
Orica GreenEdge may have had strength in numbers but it was the impetus of the domestics that caused the commissaries to become concerned about the ever-growing time gap. Durbridge was instructed to sit on by his team to prevent the gap widening while GPM-Data#3, who missed the move, immediately came to the front of the main peloton. It's only a matter of time before another domestic rider steals the day from the more established professionals.
4. Revisions to the road course led to a very different race.
The end result, Orica GreenEdge taking the win, may not have altered but the way it played out can't be compared to last year's opening laps. Last year Orica GreenEdge decided to cull the majority of the field in the opening laps and left Gerrans potentially isolated at critical points of the race. If it wasn't for Gerrans' blistering early form last year, Orica GreenEdge may not have won the title in its inaugural year.
This year the additional loop gave potential breakaways a chance to establish themselves. At the completion of the opening lap the lead was nearly six minutes. This changed the dynamic of the race and also gave some of those not suited to the harsh Buninyong climb longer to recover between ascents.
The distance was arguably too long for a race held in January but the majority of the field was lining up with a number of race days already in the legs.
5. The women's road race was refreshingly aggressive.
An early breakaway took off and spent the majority of the day in front. It took until the final lap before the winning group would form but the lead had changed multiple times before reaching that point. Orica-AIS' Gracie Elvin out-sprinted three others to take the title right on the line. The race was exciting and like the men's race it wasn't dominated throughout by the professionals.
Unfortunately for the women's field they did not have the benefits of a four-day stage race behind them when lining up for the 106.6km race. The Mitchelton Bay Classic has traditionally held a women's series in conjunction with the men however, the addition of a women's Sun Tour would really make for a brilliant start to the Australian New Year.
6. The Jayco Herald Sun Tour needs to be in January
In 2012, the only real warm-up for the nationals was the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic. In 2013, the peloton's intensity got a boost post-pre-season training from the Bay Crits and the Jayco Herald Sun Tour and the result was a better prepared field in Buninyong with more potential winners.
It was no surprise to see that the riders who performed well at the Sun Tour, were also well in the mix when it came to the nationals.
What the calendar now needs, and it became even clearer over the weekend, is better collaboration between event organisers and Cycling Australia to ensure a consistency in the racing and the effect should be that the build up to the first UCI WorldTour event, the Tour Down Under, is even greater.
Perhaps one or two longer stages in the Sun Tour next year would serve to prepare a larger number of domestic riders for the near 200km-long Australian road race title.
7. Garmin-Sharp is set to benefit from yet an all-new Aussie connection
With the formation of GreenEdge in 2012 came the collapse of the Australian skeleton at Garmin with Jack Bobridge, Cameron and Travis Meyer all moving away from the team where they developed their road careers.
A re-build of such has occurred over the last twelve months with Nathan Haas being joined by Steele Von Hoff, Lachlan Morton and Rohan Dennis. Just two of those riders, former Genesys teammates Von Hoff and Haas finished the race on Sunday but as a quartet, all four worked brilliantly.
8. 'Bling' looks to have his boogie back
The move of Michael Matthews to Orica GreenEdge was not surprising considering his past connections to Shayne Bannan but as we all know, it's not what you do, it's how you do it.
If Sunday was any indication, Matthews has found a home where he is much more at ease. Despite having issues with the zip on his skin-suit, there was still a smile on his face and it was a long way from the version that was clearly frustrated at the Tour Down Under.
It's a shame that he has missed a berth at the Tour Down Under, but his chances will come as should the results that he has long-promised.
9. Lessons to be learned from the criterium
Ballarat's criterium circuit was as popular as ever and the move to bring it further into the CBD was a smart move. Spectators had extensive viewing options and could be easily accessed along the course. Large screens near the start/finish line meant those wanting to enjoy a drink or meal during the race could still watch the action.
Meyer's near race-long solo victory was certainly impressive however allowing a rider of his calibre to stretch his legs so far was an error that team managers would have be ruing. When the peloton finally reacted it was too late. The domestic teams didn't have the strength to bring him back so far into the race and the added strain of the afternoon heat may also have played a part in the unwillingness of others to contribute at the front.
Orica GreenEdge used numbers to ensure they always had the upper hand. Howard was able to finish it off for the team despite lacking a proper lead-out squad. This is a race that often favours the NRS teams who race criteriums throughout the year but this was one time they got it wrong. Meyer was simply too good.
In the women's race it was Specialized-Securitor who controlled affairs. Kimberley Wells proved that she was once again the quickest in the bunch sprints and took a fine victory after marking many of the late moves in the race. Wells has signalled her intention to race abroad and if she can develop her endurance and climbing ability further, there's little doubt she'll be moving onto greener pastures in the near future. Third place Elvin may not have seemed like a candidate for the road race but she would prove more than capable just a few days later when she took her first senior road race title.
10. Schedule switch hit the right note
While the change to the road course got much of the publicity heading into the 2013 event, there was also the movement of the individual time trial to the opening day of the championships. Under the old format, the added toughness that was witnessed in the road race on the Sunday meant that by the time the time trial rolled around on the Tuesday, rider's performances suffered because of it.
The belief pre-event was that the move would result in more entrants but while this wasn't necessarily the case, the competition certainly improved.
This time, there were no such concerns with the road race on Sunday the championships' natural crescendo.
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