Arndt and Van Vleuten to defend Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race titles

Former winners Spratt and Kennaugh also to line out in January

The organisers of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race have confirmed that 2017 champions Nikias Arndt (Team Sunweb) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) will return to defend their titles in 2018.

The 2016 winners of the race, Van Vleuten's Orica-Scott teammate Amanda Spratt and Peter Kennaugh with his new Bora-Hansgrohe team, are also confirmed starters for the January 27 and 28 races. The Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race - Towards Zero Race Melbourne criterium around Albert Park will go ahead for a second year ahead of the road races in Geelong. Caleb Ewan is confirmed for the Thursday criterium but will not race the Sunday road race.

The courses have also been tweaked for 2018 with race director Scott Sunderland explaining the changes.

"We will see the 2018 Elite Men tackle the iconic climb, Challambra Crescent, a fourth time," Sunderland said. "While it will be the first time in the event's history that the women race over Challambra Crescent. This is going to be an incredible viewing opportunity for spectators as they get to see the riders up close on the hardest climb. There's no hiding on Challambra – and that’s what’s great about it. It just makes everyone give that extra few per cent."

Arndt, who beat Cameron Meyer and Simon Gerrans in a close sprint finish, remains confident of his ability to defend his title despite the added difficulty of a fourth ascent of Challambra.

"Everyone will make it a bit harder for me [at the 2018 Cadel Road Race]. Everyone knows of me more so they will try to attack me. That's what I expect but, so far, I'm in good shape and I will go for it," said Arndt. "It's very physical, it's a hard race, it's the perfect race. I'm training hard already, preparing well and looking forward to getting the chance to defend it."

Arndt's win kick-started a highly successful season for Sunweb which included overall Giro d'Italia victory for Tom Dumoulin, two stages and the Tour de France green jersey for Michael Matthews, two stages and the Tour de France king of the mountains classification for Warren Barguil. There was also BinckBank GC vicrory for Dumoulin and the World team time trial title. Dumoulin also won the World time trial title in September.

Although Sunweb will have four Australians on its roster from 2018, Matthews, Chris Hamilton, Jai Hindley and Michael Storer, it is unlikely the quartet will line out for the team over the Australian summer. Matthews told Cyclingnews in October that he will again skip the Australian start of the year, while Hindley also told Cyclingnews that he expects a later start to his neo-pro season after racing late into the season with Mitchelton-Scott.

The full team list for both the men's and women's races are to be announced in the coming weeks with the majority of the Tour Down Under men's and women's pelotons expected to ride on in Geelong. The likes of Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott), Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Chris Froome (Team Sky) have ridden the race in recent years, with organisers working to ensure international talent returns once again in 2018. 

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