- Les Clarke
"World's fastest criteriums" get a whole lot faster
Now in its 22nd year, the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic kicks off the Australian summer of cycling and in 2011 the quality field on show will undoubtedly make for memorable racing.
Defending champion Chris Sutton returns with a powerful Team Sky in tow and 2008 champion Mark Renshaw will be in Geelong, at the helm of the O2 Networks squad.
They'll be up against the likes of experienced sprinters Robbie McEwen, Allan Davis and Graeme Brown, all of whom have plenty of experience in the series and will prove tough adversaries for both Sutton and Renshaw.
Their support cast includes the likes of Under 23 road race world champion Michael Matthews, experienced Garmin-Cervélo domestique Brett Lancaster, Matt Wilson and Leigh Howard, plus Saxo Bank duo Richie Porte and David Tanner.
In the women's races, Commonwealth Games road race medalists Rochelle Gilmore and Chloe Hosking will be the riders to watch, with Belinda Goss returning to Geelong and former Australian national criterium champion Kirsty Broun heading up the Virgin Blue squad.
Decorated HTC-Highroad rider Judith Arndt will be the joker in the pack, making an appearance at the four-race event, while reigning Australian criterium champion Carly Light will also be competing.
The four courses offer a mix of technical riding and wide, open racing, with the opening race in Eastern Park taking riders around Geelong's picturesque Botanical Gardens, while Portarlington's parallelogram-shaped circuit should make for hectic and heated sprinting.
The Ritchie Boulevard hotdog is a crowd favourite and could be decisive in the series as the final night sees Williamstown host riders on a classic rectangle course, reminiscent of US-style criteriums.
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