The route for the 2017 Herald Sun Tour has been made official with race director John Trevorrow telling Cyclingnews it is the "toughest course in the recent history of the race since it was revamped".
For the second year running, Australia's oldest stage race has secured Chris Froome and Team Sky while Orica-BikeExchange will be led by Colombian Esteban Chaves on his debut at the race. The confirmation of the duo helped Trevorrow craft the 2017 parcours which will feature the challenging climb to Falls Creek and a tough final day circuit around Kinglake to the north of Melbourne.
Once again the race starts with a 2.1km prologue along the banks of the Yarra River in Southbank but it is stage 1 from Wangaratta to Falls Creek, which is sure to see the first major shake-up in the overall standings and play a pivotal role in deciding the 2017 winner.
"Once we decided to go up the high country it was always going to be a fairly tough course but once I knew for sure that we had Chris Froome and Esteban Chaves, we had to give them a platform to do what they are famous for. So that's why we brought the Falls Creek finish into it," Trevorrow told Cyclingnews once the route for the 64th edition of the race was announced in Melbourne.
"I don't believe that after the first stage to Falls Creek there will only be two bike riders in it. It is a quality field and there are some really good climbers in there who will be within cooee of them. They won't be miles in front. It is a long climb at 20km but it is not a steep climb. If you are going to pick any of the Australian mountains, Falls would be the one that is not quite as tough as Hotham or something, Especially as we are finishing at the gate which is 3.8km from the summit which is the steep part at the end. I think it makes it a bit more reasonable for that time of the year. We don't want it to be all over on day one and I don't believe it will be."
The Willunga Hill queen stage at the Tour Down Under has been the key 'climbing' stage of the Australia summer in recent years. The Falls Creek stage will rival the South Australian climb in 2017 for a showdown of the climbers, but a diplomatic Trevorrow doesn't believe a fair comparison can be made between the two stages.
"I think it will be a wonderful stage and when you think that people all over Europe drive ridiculous kilometres into really remote parts of the Pyrenees to watch the superstars do their stuff, this is a real mountain with two of the best climbers in the world and we are giving them a platform to do their stuff. If that doesn't bring the people then I would be very disappointed," he said, adding that he hopes to see the emergence and confirmation of young Australian climbing talent on the day.
"If you are a handy climber, what better opportunity are you going to have to race against the best in the world. It could be an opportunity for a youngster to really make a name for himself."
While stage 1 and the 121km stage 4 around Kinglake are the two key GC days, Trevorrow isn't counting out the importance of the prologue where precious seconds could be gained or lost.
"The prologue could be the defining thing between rider like that," he said of Chaves and Froome. "Those seconds gained in the prologue could define the tour. If one of them took it a bit easy and lost 15 seconds or gained 15 seconds on the other, that could be crucial."
Squeezed in between the two climbing days is a tough stage 2, a 165.6km jaunt from Mount Beauty to Beechworth, and a day for the sprinters that takes the peloton from Benalla to Mitchelton Winery.
Described by Trevorrow as a "magnificent" stage, the Mt Beauty to Beechworth stage is expected to finish in a reduced bunch sprint but not necessarily among the fast men as he added.
"It is not a sprinter stage because of the ride up Stanley which is about a 7km climb with 10km to go," he said. "It will test the tough sprinters but it depends on how the Froome's and Chaves' of this world race it and if they want to put the hammer down after the climb it could be a very fast finish. You would imagine it to be a stage for the tough sprinters, but it is not a pure sprinters stage."
Stage 3 is the only day for the pure fast men and is therefore fitting it will start in Benalla, the hometown of Tour de France green jersey winner Baden Cooke. Trevorrow has asked Cooke to fire the start pistol to kick off the stage before the first ever finish inside the Mitchelton Winery, which is owned by Gerry Ryan, and has hosted several stage starts of the Herald Sun Tour.
The race then concludes with the new Kinglake circuit rather than the Arthurs Seat finale in the Mornington Peninsula with Trevorrow explaining the decision-making process behind the change.
"We have had many Sun Tour's without Arthurs Seat, I never raced up Arthurs Seat, but of course we will be asked about it," said Trevorrow, who won the race on three occasions. "The Sun Tour moves around, the state government is the major funder and part of our funding process is that we move the race around. With Arthurs Seat and all the development that has gone on there, at the time the decision had to be made there were still question marks around road closures and car parks and all those things which made it a bit hard."
Trevorrow is expecting the Kinglake stage will be crucial to the outcome of the race and equally as hard as the recent final day stages up the 3km Arthurs Seat climb with a deserving winner to emerge victorious from the town which was devasted by bushfires in the summer of 2009.
"We had a look around and we have picked a course that I think is sensational. Kinglake, if you are talking about the climbing mecca for Melbourne cyclists, this is it. I think we will get a huge crowd and have a wonderful day. The stage is at least as hard as this year [to Arthurs Seat] as they have four climbs and the climb is similar."
Team Sky and Orica-BikeExchange are the two confirmed WorldTour teams for the race next year, which will feature seven-man teams, with further team announcements expected in the coming weeks.
2017 Jayco Herald Sun Tour
Prologue, Wednesday, February 1: Melbourne, 2.1km
Stage 1, Thursday, February 2: Wangaratta - Falls Creek, 169.9km
Stage 2, Friday, February 3: Mt Beauty - Beechworth, 165.9km
Stage 3, Saturday, February 4: Benalla - Mitchelton Winery, 165.6km
Stage 4, Sunday, February 5: Kinglake Loop, 121km