Bronzini returns to former glories at Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

Italian takes on Australia's best at scene of World Championship win

Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle Down Under) returns to the scene of her 2010 World Championship victory this Saturday when the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race hosts the elite women in Geelong, on Victoria’s stunning surf coast.

Just over four years ago, the Italian pounced in the final kilometre after the escape of Judith Arndt and Nicole Cooke ran out of legs, with Bronzini too strong for Marianne Vos and Emma Johansson.

The 113km event marks round two of the Australian National Road Series (NRS) for women with some of the world’s best riders lining up against Australia’s finest established, and up-and-coming domestic talent. With current NRS leader Melissa Hoskins (Orica-AIS) away on track duties, chances are we’ll see a new face at the top of the ladder and current teams aggregate leaders Roxsolt will no doubt be front and centre for a hotly-contested win.

It’s the same finishing straight that hosted the road races at the 2010 worlds, and as the cycling world convenes on Geelong to bid farewell to Australia’s first-ever winner of the Tour de France, it’s a worthy winner who’ll earn the opening victory of the weekend.

The course

The 73-strong peloton will be back on the Geelong waterfront at Eastern Beach for the race start - it’s familiar territory for those riders who begin their season at the Bay Classic critériums.

Beginning just before midday the parcours appears to give everyone a relatively easy start to proceedings, for the opening 50 or so kilometres, heading south-east through Barwon Heads before traversing back west along 13th Beach. Sprint points will be up for grabs at kilometres 24 (Barwon Heads) and 46 (Torquay) forcing the teams of up to five riders into early organisation.

Regardless, it’s the weather that’s likely to have the biggest say as the peloton settles in. There’s a minimal chance of rain but summer has been elusive this week with a decidedly autumnal-feel in the air, despite the sun poking through light cloud cover. Wind conditions in this part of the world are more often than not blustery, cool and straight off the water.

Out of Torquay and nearing the iconic Bells Beach (Point Break was not actually shot there) the sole Queen of the Mountains points will be up for grabs at kilometer 57 after a few shorter, steep climbs to prepare the legs. Heading onto the Great Ocean Road and back inland and north-west towards Geelong, the course is slightly lumpy before the mostly downhill run into the finish. One short, sharp climb kicks in at around 5km to go. Unfortunately the elite women will miss the fun and games of Challambra Crescent which proved quite the spectacle during the World Championships, but expect splits in the field as the race comes to a conclusion.

The contenders

It’s still early in the season but we’ve seen enough racing in the southern hemisphere over January for the form riders to show their hand with the Bay Classic, Australian Championships and Santos Women’s Tour all in the prelude.

Options abound when scanning the start list, with several teams carrying one or more options in their bag of tricks.

If one team stands out on paper pre-race it’s Roxsolt, boasting Tiffany Cromwell, Loren Rowney, Jo Hogan and Carlee Taylor on their roster. Said to be ‘underdone’ heading into the road nationals, Cromwell finished 10th so expect improvement. The real ace for Kelvin Rundle’s squad just might be Rowney following her third overall at the Santos Women’s Tour last week and well-suited to the course.

Orica-AIS have gone on record as saying they’ll be looking to split the pack so rivals will be mindful of their attacks. Lizzie Williams can hang in for the bunch sprint but the likes of former Australian Champions Gracie Elvin and Amanda Spratt can’t be discounted. The team’s options continue with Valentina Scandolara is obviously in form following her overall victory in Adelaide.

Wiggle Down Under, while without new Australian Champion Peta Mullens, is spearheaded by Bronzini whose chances improve without the ascents of Challambra that she conquered to win her 2010 world title. Chloe Hosking could also be another to watch in orange and black.

Rochelle Gilmore’s other charges from High5 Dream Team boast 2014 NRS runner-up Ellen Skerritt, Jessica Mundy as well as Kendelle Hodges – it’s not a bad triple threat. The woman who withstood Skerritt’s challenge, the evergreen Ruth Corset meanwhile spearheads Total Rush Hyster.

Last, but not least, former world championship silver medallist Rachel Neylan (Building Champions Squad) is in hot form, but is likely to be heavily marked. Overall, it’s a strong field which is just as deserving of the spotlight that will be shone on the men’s race on Sunday.

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