As Australia's sole WorldTour team, the pressure is always on for Mitchelton-Scott to perform during the Australian summer. With two of the three major races of the six-week block of racing in their pocket, a third remains in reach at the Herald Sun Tour. The chance to add to Alex Edmondon's national road race title and Daryl Impey's Tour Down Under is all to play for.
Having blown apart the race on stage 1 from Colac to Warrnambool, Mitchelton-Scott is well placed in the battle for the leader’s yellow jersey. The 2015 champion, Cameron Meyer now sits second overall, nine seconds down on stage 1 winner Lasse Norman Hansen (Aqua Blue Sport), defending champion Damien Howson is sixth at 16 seconds, while Esteban Chaves remains in contention for the overall despite sitting 26th overall at 46 seconds.
Along with fellow WorldTour team Trek-Segafredo, Mitchelton-Scott ripped the stage apart in the crosswinds after the jaunt along the spectacular but exposed Great Ocean Road. While Trek-Segafredo and Mitchelton-Scott missed the stage win, both teams firmly inserted themselves into the GC conversation.
As well as consolidating riders at the top of the race, the team also eliminated a number of GC contenders via its aggressive approach to the stage.
Explaining the team tactics for the stage after placing third, Meyer described the aggressive plan and their desire to execute it.
"We wanted to be on the front foot today. Obviously when there are a lot of crosswinds you would rather be dealing the pain to the other teams rather than them dealing the pain to you," Meyer said.
"We went in there with an aggressive approach. It didn't plan out the way we wanted it to but at 30km to go, it did. We had Esteban, Michael Hepburn, who was a real driver, then Damien, who is a former winner, and myself there skip off the front. We put ourselves in a good position for the general classification. We are right up there."
Lots of climbing to come
The GC is likely to be decided on Saturday's ascent up Lake Mountain that concludes a 218-kilometre day in the saddle. However, Friday’s stage 2 to Ballarat, with its finish on the Australian national championships course and then Sunday's circuit around Kinglake could also influence the overall outcome.
With a number of riders sandwiched at the top of the GC likely to find the climbing to come a struggle, Meyer added that the team is possibly better placed than the current classification suggests. But he knows there is still plenty of road to cover before the winner is crowned in Kinglake on Sunday afternoon.
"There is a long way to go. Esteban is a quality climber. He doesn't run podiums in a Grand Tour for nothing," Meyer said of the Colombian.
"Personally, I would love 10 minutes on him if I was racing against him but luckily I have him on my team. He is always going to be within striking distance. I think also with Damien and I now really close to the front as well we still have three cards to play, which probably puts us in the box seat. There are a lot of long stages to go in this tour and still some big climbs to come."
Winners at the national championships with Edmondson in early-January, Mitchelton-Scott have already conquered the Buninyong course once this year. Edmondson is racing the Sun Tour with the team and will be an option on a day that Meyer suggests won't be as important to the GC as Saturday and Sunday's stages. However, should the wind pick up, he and Mitchelton-Scott could well repeat the trick of splitting the race in the crosswinds for the second day running.
"It is a little bit different heading to Buninyong as you have 180 kilometres or so before you get there. One lap up Buninyong, I don't know if it is enough," he said.
"I reckon it will be 40-50 man group but who knows? Today threw up a spanner with echelons so if we get a bit of wind going to Buninyong you could have it split again. I would be more looking to the weekend.”