Simon Gerrans is no stranger to Buninyong in early-January having claimed two Australian national road race titles on the hilly 10km circuit just outside of Ballarat. While his Orica-Scott team will field its smallest squad yet for Sunday's race, the 36-year-old is confident a tactically flexible approach that includes options for all six riders to win will assist in the ambition of regaining the green and gold jersey.
"Tactically obviously there a few different way to go about it it, but I think as much as we have got our smallest line-up ever with Orica-Scott this year, we have got cards to play in every scenario," Gerrans told assembled media a day out from the race. "And I think that's going to be our big advantage. For myself I will be given a sort of specific role on the day that I will have to follow, and if the race unfolds in that way then I will be there, and hopefully there going for a win. If that's not the case hopefully I've got one of my teammates that have already wrapped the race up."
Caleb Ewan is one of the cards that Orica-Scott can play and his priors on the Buninyong circuit with victory in the U23 race and silver in 2015 when IAM Cycling's Heinrich Haussler took out the victory. In 2016, a super human effort from Jack Bobridge (Trek-Segafredo) 90km out from the finish line caught everyone napping. In 2017, the peloton will be out to stop Orica-Scott from claiming the victory but for Gerrans the race will be a more open affair than previous years as he explained.
“I'm not sure if everyone out there is out there just to stop Orica-Scott winning. There might have been a few situations a little bit negative in the last couple of years. But looking at the field this year, everyone is lining up is hoping to win for themselves or their team," he said. "It's not so much everyone against us. But you can never predict every single scenario that is going to unfold in the race. Like, how Jack won last year … I don't think anybody saw that coming. That would have been really hard to pre-empt a move like that. You can never predict every scenario, but if we race well as a collective in the team we should have most situations covered."
Wanting to avoid a repeat of last year's result when Orica-Scott missed the podium for the first time in history, Gerrans explained what lessons the team had learned from 2016.
"It was a phenomenal ride by Jack last year. When he went out there kind of mid-race and started chugging away mostly on his own we thought, 'he is going to come back any stage now.' And he just kept out there and stayed out there all day. No one could go near him. Learning from that situation probably wouldn't give any group with a major threat like a guy Jack as much of an advantage as they gave last year. Saying that, we didn't see Jack Bobridge as a huge threat."
With his contract to expire at the end of the season and Gerrans taking his career "year by year", these championships could possibly be a final hurrah. However, following on from the team's successful 2016 season that included two monument victory and Esteban Chaves finishing on the podium at the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana, he is still "hungry" for personal success and enjoying taking the role as road captain with a contract into 2018 more likely than not.
"I have always been very team orientated, but now that we have some younger guys that have really developed in the team that are out and out leaders. They merit full support in certain races, whereas I think if you back tracked a couple of years ago I was probably shouldering a fair bit of that responsibility. I knew [for] each of the goals like I pointed out earlier, there was a very good chance I was the one they were turning to for results. Now that's not always the case. I am very much team orientated and I think as I've got a little bit older as well I've sort of probably taken a little bit more that road captain responsibility on as guys in the team like Stuart O'Grady have moved on.
"I get a huge thrill out of helping the young guys develop and who I can have a positive influence on their career. Its very satisfying."
Gerrans will be aiming to stand atop the podium come Sunday afternoon on Buninyong's Warrenheip St, collecting a third green and gold jersey of his career and joining Phil O'Shea, Russell Mockridge, John Trevorrow, Robbie McEwen as three-time champions of Australia. He then turns his attention to defending his Tour Down Under crown before looking to his European goals.
"I have obviously put a big cross against this month of racing in Australia. And from then its on to the classics as the next objective. And then the Tour de France is always a major goal for the team. So they are my three major ones for the first part of the year anyway."