The 2017 cycling season gets underway early in Australia with the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic taking place around Geelong from January 1-3. Due to how the calendar falls in 2017, the criterium series is down from four days to three to avoid a clash with the Australian national championships but that hasn't stopped a strong field of Australian and international riders for both the men and women's events.
While the criterium series is suited to the fast finishers, the three courses all offer up something different for both riders and spectators to enjoy with aggressive and frenetic action all but assured. Cyclingnews casts an eye over some of the riders who are likely to hit the headlines over the three-day 'bay crits'.
Australian criterium champion Caleb Ewan has been the man to beat at the 'bay crits' since his 2012 debut when he won two stages. Overall victory followed in 2013, 2015 and 2016 when the 22-year-old enjoyed his tenth career win. With intimate knowledge of the courses and another European road season in his legs, it will again be a tough task to get the better of the Orica-Scott man.
Since starting his winning ways in 2012 as a 17-year-old, Ewan has been the most consistent rider and shown he can win with or without a lead out train. Never shying away from the opportunity to enjoy a race win, Ewan has used the 'bay crits' to hone his form for the nationals and Tour Down Under while also enjoying great success. With a strong four-man team in support of his sprint aims, Michael Hepburn, Luke Durbridge, Damien Howson and Mitch Docker will join Ewan for the race, another dominant display looks likely with the possibility of a full clean-sweep well within his reach.
A case could well be made for Ed Clancy's new JLT Condor teammate and 2014 'bay crits' winner Brenton Jones as the man to watch for the British Continental team but it's the three-time Olympic gold medallist who gets the nod. However, Clancy gets the nod as an intriguing addition to the start list as he looks to make the most of the next two years on the road before targeting a fourth team pursuit gold medal in Tokyo.
Clancy, awarded an OBE in the 2017 New Year’s Honours List, has been on the JLT Condor books since the 2011 season with only a limited road schedule with his primary focus on the velodrome. When Clancy has ridden the road for extended periods, he has shown his ability with a stage win at the Tour De Korea for example and is hoping the 'bay crits' can kick-start his re-focus on the road and in particular, sprint wins.
Former track world champion in the team sprint, Scott Sunderland has undergone a transformation in recent years to emerge as one of the best sprinters on the Australian domestic scene and has also made his mark in American criteriums during the same period. Sunderland will be making his debut with the IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness and along with current U23 criterium champion, Jesse Kerrison, form a formidable sprint duo and will surely be aiming to start the season in the best way possible.
Sunderland took a recent victory at the Shimano Super Crit ahead of Ewan, and Steele von Hoff in a convincing manner to announce he is ready and raring to go for a busy Australian summer of cycling. His new IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness team, the top domestic team for six year's running, consistently punches above its weight and now with a man who can punch out 2,000 watts should be a regular feature on the podium at the 'bay crits'
Canberran Chloe Hosking is another perennial figure at the 'bay crits' who has featured on the winner's list, taking overall victory in 2013. The 26-year-old will be riding with the Alé Cycling composite team, she will ride with Alé Cipollini in 2017, at the 'bay crits' as the team's fastest finisher. Italian Valentina Scandolara will be riding alongside Hosking and offers a more punchy finish but its Hosking who leads the sprint ambition on roads that have been previously been good to her.
Hosking enjoyed stage wins at the Ladies Tour of Qatar, Giro Rosa, Tour of Chongming Island, and the one-day La Course by Le Tour de France and GP Bruno Beghelli to enhance her reputation as one of the top sprinters in the women's peloton across 2016. That 'bay crits' will provide Hosking with an opportunity to win on home soil in front of home fans and lay the foundations for the Australian summer, and European spring classics.
Peta Mullens enjoyed her first 'bay crits' win back in 2015 as she flew under the radar before taking out the national road race title a week later. In 2017, Mullens will be making her Hagens Berman | Supermint debut and having shown her current form and condition with second place to Scandolara Shimano Super Crit, the 28-year-old could well start the new year in the best possible fashion.
While the first race on Ritchie Boulevard is usually suited to the sprinters, race two in Portarlington with its hilly circuit looks best suited to Mullens' capabilities. With goals spread across the summer, Mullens won't be judging January racing purely on her 'bay crits's performances but expect an aggressive showing and plenty of time spent at the head of the race from the Victorian.
For the full 2017 Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic start list, click here