The second round of the Subaru National Road Series, the Battle on the Border will be served in the ever-sunny part of Northern New South Wales on the Gold Coast where the peloton will face a mixed bag of stages that will see the ultimate all-rounder prevail. The current leader of the NRS Joe Cooper will be on the start line with his Huon Salmon-Genesys Wealth Advisers squad and will wear the number-one dossard in a race that has all the 'big' teams including Drapac Professional Cycling facing-off for the first time in 2013.
A hill-top finish to start, a road stage for the opportunists, a 9.3km time trial, 45 minutes of a street-circuit criterium action and a final day of racing designed to test the strength of the sprinters should, in theory satisfy a huge number of riders in the field but as the NRS continues to demonstrate, the top teams will not be allowing just anyone to ride away with a victory. You can check the race distances and locations here.
There is plenty at stake at the Battle on Border and it's not just NRS points and rankings that matter. Drapac is reported to make its return to the Professional Continental ranks in 2014 but for for this week, the focus will surround the squad that could more than likely win a couple stages or the overall.
Former Australian road champion Darren Lapthorne (Drapac) suggested that he won't necessarily be the man to watch during the four-day race but all will be revealed at the end of the first stage. The brutal final ascent on Day 1 to Mount Warning will weed out those aiming for stages from the real GC men. The hill-top finish at the end of the 111km stage may only be a touch over 4km but with an average gradient over 9 percent and sections hovering 20 percent the time gaps could be decisive by the end of the opening day.
Mount Warning looks perfect for the winning squad from Woodside Tour de Perth, Huon Salmon-Genesys. They will undoubtedly want take control with the intention of launching Nathan Earle to his second NRS stage win of the year and his first race leader's jersey. However, simply shadowing Earle around the bunch will not be enough even if someone like Adam Semple (Satalyst-Giant) arrives with improved form to what he showed in Perth because Huon Salmon-Genesys have additional climbing talent in the form of young Jack Haig. The former mountain biker finished third overall at Perth and his lean build should eat up the steep sections of the last ascent - he's already made his intentions public by taking the fastest time on Strava just days before the start. Add to the mix Ben Dyball, who is arguably one of the best 'pure' climbers in the domestic scene and the team will enter the tour with plenty of options.
The race won't be 'The Huon Salmon-Genesys Show' because there are others that could upset the Tasmanian-based team's ambitions. Eric Sheppard rode solidly at the NRS opener at the Tour de Perth, riding as aggressively as ever and after a recent win in the two-day Tour of the South West will be running on a high leading into the Battle. He could be a rival to Earle if his climbing legs are up to the same level that saw him take silver in the 2011 U23 National Road Championships and win that year's Tour of Indonesia.
Sheppard's search2retain powered by health.com.au squad proved more than capable of putting pressure on the rest of the GC contenders and will have strongman Neil Van Der Ploeg who demonstrated size is no barrier when he climbed with Australia's WorldTour crop to an impressive fourth-place at this year's Road National Championships and achieved a similar result at the climbers delight in March's Oceania Road Championships. The Melbourne squad will send a number of riders to the mountainous and breathless heights of Qinghai Lake later in the year and will have more than one card to play when the race kicks off on 2 May.
Budget Forklifts arrives without a true climbing force like last year's multiple-tour winner Mark O'Brien but as Perth stage winner Jack Anderson - who is sitting out this race - asserted during his brief stint in yellow at Perth "everyone keeps comparing last year to this year but this year is a different team". It's unknown whether Budget will climb with the best but time lost on the Warning volcano could be clawed back through the squad's incessant attacking on Stage 2 and 5.
Outside of the major teams with genuine GC contenders there's a number of riders who should perform well throughout the five-stage race. Target-Trek had Nathan Elliot in 10th overall at Perth while SA-based Euride racing put two riders in the top-10 at Perth's Rottnest TT with Harry Carpenter and Miles Scotson. There could be others in the mix for a stage win like Scott Law from GPM-Data#3 but with the Northern NSW tour drumming up the type of climbs not yet seen this year there could be some surprises. But, if previous NRS races have shown anything, it is that a surprise overall victor is about as likely as an early breakaway going up the road.