The 2018 Herald Sun Tour will be longer and harder than previous editions with a climbing heavy back end to the 2.1 race. Although Chris Froome and Team Sky won't be racing in 2018, WorldTour teams Orica-Scott and Trek-Segafredo will line out for the 30 January- 4 February race. Arthurs Seat is also missing from the race in 2018 with the Herald Sun Tour to conclude with a circuit around Kinglake.
The Herald Sun Tour will be Esteban Chaves' only race on Australian soil in 2018 with Orica-Scott. The Colombian made his Tour Down Under debut in 2017, finishing second, before racing the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and the Herald Sun Tour where he was ninth. After his Australian start to the season, Chaves' season was blighted by a lingering knee injury and broken shoulder blade but is now recovered and looking ahead to the race.
"It's important to feel excited to get back on the bike and enjoy again," Chaves told the Herald Sun. "I'm in full-training now and happy to see every week the fitness and body returning step by step to what it can do. I'm excited, as always, to go back to Australia."
Chaves' teammate and 2016 Herald Sun Tour winner Damien Howson is also expected to line out for the race. Froome however is racing a Giro d'Italia/Tour de France double in 2018 and despite using the Australian opener for the last two seasons, will start his year in Europe.
A prologue along the banks of the Yarra with a Southbank finish will again open the race although the course has been shortened for 2018 to 1.6 kilometres. The race then heads west for a start in Colac, taking the Great Ocean Road to Warrnambool over 161.6 kilometres for an expected sprint finish. Stage three takes the riders from Warrnambool, the only host of both a stage start and finish in 2018, north to Ballarat for another possible sprint finish after a long 198.6 kilometres. Nathan Haas was the stage winner when race last visited Ballarat, the home of the Australian nationals, in 2014.
Stage three is the longest of the race at 218 kilometres and coming early in the season, will surely test the legs of the riders. The stage will leave from Mitchelton Winery, a regular feature of the Herald Sun Tour, and head south through the rolling Strathbogie Ranges to the summit finish at Lake Mountain. At 1,433 metres, the finish is lower in altitude than the Falls Creek finale from 2016 but will take the best climbers around 47 minutes to ascend. The Lake Mountain stage is likely to decide the general classification.
The race then concludes with the Kinglake circuit from 2016 with the added difficulty of another lap for a total distance of 152.1 kilometres.
A two-day women's race has been added to the programme from 2018. Stage one takes place on the eve of the men's event on the Healesville course that featured in the 2016 edition of the Herald Sun Tour. The inaugural edition of the women's race then concludes with the same prologue course as the men in Southbank. Orica-Scott has been confirmed for the race with world individual time trial champion Annemiek van Vleuten to debut her rainbow jersey.
"A women's race is something we've always wanted to have and we wanted to make sure that when we did do it, it was up to the standard of the men and a really well-presented event," race director John Trevorrow told the Herald Sun.
"It's a special moment today and its great to be celebrating alongside all of you, the progression of the Jayco Herald Sun tour to stage both a men's race and a women's race - its been talked about for a number of years... both events have the sanctioning of the UCI... and we anticipate it will be star-studded roster," added Oceania president Tracey Gaudry.
The teams for both the men's and women's races are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
The Victorian Government and Jayco also announced a three-year commitment to the race.
Herald Sun Tour
Prologue, January 31: Alexandra Gardens - Southbank, 1.6 km
Stage 1, February 01: Colac - Warrnambool, 161.6 km
Stage 2, February 02: Warrnambool - Ballarat, 198.6 km
Stage 3, February 03: Mitchelton Winery - Lake Mountain, 218 km
Stage 4, February 04: Kinglake - Kinglake, 152.1 km
Women's Herald Sun Tour
Stage 1, January 30: Healesville - Healesville, 123.5km
Stage 2, January 31: Alexandra Gardens - Southbank (ITT) 1.6km