The inaugural Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race sees the rider who has given his name to the event lining up for the final time of his heavily decorated career. Announced last July, the newly created UCI 1.1 road race has attracted a high quality field with WorldTour teams, BMC, Cannondale-Garmin, Team Sky, IAM Cycling, Katusha, Etixx-Quick Step and Orica-GreenEdge all announced as starters. Complementing them are several Pro Continental and Continental teams, plus one national team to complete a strong start list.
The parcours features similarities to the finishing laps of the 2010 world championships held in Geelong, and if the race plays out like it day on that October afternoon a reduced bunch should be sprinting for the win.
The 174km race starts on the Geelong waterfront at Eastern Beach, and heads south-east to Evans' hometown of Barwon Heads on the Great Ocean Road where the first sprint point of the day will be contested. From there, the peloton skirts along the tourist route through Torquay, past the iconic Bells Beach, with the fist King of the Mountain's points awaiting.
From here on in, the 113km 'surf coast loop' profile becomes far more pronounced with the peloton heading inland via Forest Road, along the rolling Barrabool Hills with the bunch anticipating the fast downhill descent back into Geelong for three laps, 60.6km, of the finishing circuit.
While similar to the course of the 2010 worlds, the peloton will turn left into Melville Street, skipping the steep ascent of Queens Park Road, and continue along Aberdeen Street. A short 5.5% 700-metre climb up Hyland Road will be last chance for a selection to take place before the fast finish back by the Geelong waterfront.
Once through, the peloton heads up through the Yarra and Moorabool streets and turns right onto Barrabool road where the other king of the mountains points of the day are available at Challambra Crescent.
The parcours and occasion suggest the chances of a breakaway successfully claiming the spoils are almost zero. Once onto the 20.2km circuit, expect to see riders going backwards with teams trying to make it as hard as possible with the final lap sure to see the winning move. For 'climbers' such as Richie Porte (Team Sky) or Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling), they will need to go solo over the climb and to the line if they are to win.
With strong winds and rain forecasted for both the women's and men's races this weekend, deserving winners will be crowned in both events after fast and aggressive racing showing the best that Australia has to offer scenically and sportingly.
Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge)
Having sat out of the Tour Down Under, Caleb Ewan is about to start his season in earnest and enters the race off the back of two solid weeks of training. The silver medallist from the Australian national championships has been training specifically for this race, the Jayco Herald Sun Tour and the Tour de Langkawi with Orica-GreenEdge preferring to nurse the 20-year-old into his first full season as a professional, keeping his confidence high and hopefully celebrating a victory before heading to Europe.
While he has predominantly been regarded as a sprinter, Ewan proved on the tough Buninyong circuit that he can make it over a selective climb and still have enough in the tank to contest victory. With 9.6km less of racing this Sunday, Ewan will be hard to beat.
Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling)
Heinrich Haussler was set to make his debut at the words with Australia back in 2010, only for his chances to be cruelly taken away by a knee injury. The former German national, will get his chance to atone in Geelong and in the national champion's jersey no less.
Haussler came up short at the Tour Down Under but he and his IAM Cycling team couldn't be faulted for their efforts across the week of racing. Having focused on one-day races throughout his career, the 30-year-old might just be thinking Sunday is better suited to his characteristics. With rain and win predicted for the race, the man who rode through the snow of the 2013 Milan–San Remo 'sans' gloves, will be licking his lips in anticipation. Another factor in his advantage, is the knowledge that he can beat Ewan in a head-to-head sprint as he did to claim the green and gold jersey.
Matt Goss (MTN-Qhubeka)
Matt Goss makes his debut for MTN-Qhubeka at this race with his form and condition unknown. Considering it's his first race of the season and with new teammates, it's hard to gauge exactly how Goss will perform come Sunday but the 28-year-old will hungry to show himself and start the season with a bang.
MTN-Qhubeka also have new signing Tyler Farrar to call upon and with new signing, Matthew Brammeier, the African team could be challenging for the podium.
Gianni Meersman (Etixx-Quick Step)
Gianni Meersman didn't hit his stride at the Tour Down Under, as his Etixx-Quick Step team finished the race empty handed. The Belgian only has a single one-day win to his name, the Trofeo Platja de Muro in 2014, having had better success in stage races. However, a top-10 finish looks on the cards for the 29-year-old, who has a week of racing in his legs and a team that would love to finish off its campaign down under with a win.
Cadel Evans (BMC)
This is a course that Evans had a hand in designing so it's no surprise that he also starts as one of the pre-race favourites. While victory will be a hard ask, we cannot discount Evans from animating the race.
When Evans lined up for his World Championship defence on these roads back in 2010, he was one of the most aggressive attackers in the final 10km of the 262.7km race, but ultimately fell short when against the superior finishing of Norway's Thor Hushovd.
Likely to be heavily marked throughout the race, Evans' teammates Silvan Dillier and recently re-signed Samuel Sánchez will be the jokers in BMC's deck, but the 37-year-old is competing in his final race so expect him to leave nothing on the road. Evans' best chance of victory is to force a selection in the final climbs of the race, as he tried in 2010. Whether that will be enough to drop the likes of Ewan and Haussler remains to be seen.
Nathan Haas (Cannondale-Garmin)
Nathan Haas didn't quite have the Tour Down Under he prepared for. Untimely punctures and the UCI's decision to reverse its changes to the WorldTour points rankings meant there was no repeat of his fifth place overall from last year. The 25-year-old was the first to hit out on the finish to Stirling only to fade in the final few hundred metres, and finished ninth.
Haas is keen to repay his teammates for their work at the Australian WorldTour race last week and the opportunity of becoming the debut winner of the race is not lost on him.
Neil van der Ploeg (Avanti)
Neil van der Ploeg spent the Tour Down Under working as a domestique but will be Avanti's protected man on Sunday. His bronze medal at the national championships was just reward for the 27-year-old who has been improving year-on-year without much fanfare besides appreciative teammates and staff.
Looking to make the jump to WorldTour next season, a top result by van der Ploeg will keep his name in the scout's notebooks.
Oliver Kent-Spark (search2retain-health.com.au)
The young Australian rider announced himself late last year with victory in the Melbourne to Warrnambool classic and second place at the Grafton to Inverell. Two of the hardest one-day races on the Australian cycling calendar.
Kent-Spark then started the season where left off with 17th place at the Australian nationals in the same group as Evans, Porte and Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) and with local knowledge of the roads, a podium place isn't out of the question for the 22-year-old.