Defending champion Chris Sutton will return to the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic with a strong team in tow in an attempt to become just the fourth man to defend his title in the event's 22-year history.
Sutton will be in Geelong joined by countrymen Simon Gerrans and Mathew Hayman plus New Zealander Greg Henderson and Briton Ben Swift.
Team Sky rode exceptionally well in the five-day NSW Grand Prix at the start of December to secure the overall win for local star Sutton, who will be hoping to repeat his performance from the 2010 Jayco Bay Cycling Classic where he took the series for the first time.
With the Bay Cycling Classic the first race of the year, it will provide a great opportunity for the quintet to perfect its lead out train prior to the Australian Championships and the Santos Tour Down Under.
"It's going to be great having the full pro team racing in the crits especially with our line up including Mathew Hayman, Greg Henderson, Simon Gerrans and Ben Swift," said Sutton.
"Leading into the Tour Down Under, it will be great for the team to work together at the crits and get the feel for racing again. The last time we all raced together was around August last year so it will be a big advantage for us," he added.
"There are four criteriums in the series so we will talk amongst the group and see who has the legs each day. Maybe I'll have a go one day, then Swifty [Swift] or Hendy [Henderson] the next. We will just play it by ear," Sutton explained of the team's plan for the event.
Mat [Hayman] and Gerro [Gerrans] were both awesome in the NSW Grand Prix so it just goes to show that we have a strong team. Swifty is travelling really well and has said that he is two to three steps ahead of where he was last year so he will be on form."
Sutton identified former winners Graeme Brown (Urban Hotels) and Mark Renshaw (O2 Networks) plus Matt Goss (E3 - Pure Tasmania), who took out the Launceston criterium last night in additiont to Geelong's own Leigh Howard (Jayco VIS) as the main riders to beat.
Sutton can also add six-time winner Robbie McEwen (Jayco VIS), who joined the Classic line up yesterday.
"Brownie [Graeme Brown] is always going good at this time of the year. Mark Renshaw, Matt Goss and Leigh Howard will also be riders to watch but there's always an outsider that you don't really think about going into the criteriums so I'm sure we will see someone come up against the guys," said Sutton.
Gerrans is keen to use the series to assist Sutton and Henderson for overall honours while training for the Australian Open Road Championship and Tour Down Under. He won the latter event in 2006 and is looking forward to competing in the Bay Cycling Classic after missing it in 2010 due to team commitments.
"I am focusing on the Australian Championship and Tour Down Under so at the Bay Crits I'll be doing my best to help the guys out while also using the races as preparation for the rest of the Australian summer," said Gerrans.
No stranger to the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic, Greg Henderson will be a main feature in Team Sky and will be out to repeat his form from 2010 where he won stage two and finishing second overall.
2011 Jayco Bay Cycling Classic stages
January 2 (Round 1): Geelong - Eastern Park
January 3 (Round 2): Portarlington
January 4 (Round 3): Geelong - Ritchie Blvd
January 5 (Round 4): Williamstown