In 2017 for its third birthday, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race is celebrating its new status as a WorldTour race. First run as a 1.1 race then 1.HC, the one-day race around Geelong was elevated to the top tier of the spot last year but as a new entrant to the WorldTour, not all 18 WorldTour teams are obliged to race but the race is obliged to invite them. What the change means in 2017 is that no Continental teams will be lining up with 13 WorldTour outfits, four Pro-Continental teams and the Australian national team which is sure to affect how the race plays out.
There are no changes to the 174km course that starts in Geelong, heads out to the Great Ocean Road then turns back inland to finish with three 20.2km laps of the city and finishing where the riders left off in a touch over four hours later.
The coastal loop is where the early breakaway should establish itself and where the domestiques do the important muscle work to ensure their leaders are fresh for the second half of the race. A relatively flat opening gives way to rolling roads before the straights of Forest Rd and Hendy Main Rd where the possibility of crosswinds will ensure a tense peloton.
With 107km done, the peloton rolls through to start the finishing laps. The hilly loop sees the riders tackle the Queens Park Road/Melville Street climb, and Hyland St climb but it's the double whammy of the Barwon Boulevard and Challambra Crescent ascents that will sap the rider's legs. Coming 12.4km before the finish on the final lap, the 1km climb is where Peter Kennaugh launched his race-winning move in 2016 and is sure to see more fireworks come Sunday. Once the riders crest the climb, it's a fast downhill then flat run into the finish line on the waterfront.
For the 2017 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race start list, click here.
Rider's to watch
A new winner of the race will be crowned in 2017 with Kennaugh starting his season in Europe and inaugural victor Gianni Meersman forced into retirement due to heart issues. The list of favourites for the win in 2017 are divided into two camps, climbers and puncheurs, with plenty of star power in the start list.
Chris Froome makes his 2017 debut proper at the race Sunday, after racing the Australia Day criterium, and has expressed his desire to make the race and not just roll around. Like Team Sky teammate Kennaugh, a win for Froome would need to be set up in the final climb up Challambra Crescent as he's unlikely to win a sprint against the likes of a Simon Gerrans, Nathan Haas or Jay McCarthy. Also counting against Froome is the fact that his last one-day race podium came back in 2008 at the Giro dell'Appennino.
Richie Porte is another climber who needs to make his move on the hills to challenge for the victory but he will start the race with a significant target on his back after dominating the Tour Down Under last week. Having won both national titles and the Tour Down Under, BMC is surely keen to complete a clean sweep of the Australian races it has entered this summer before heading back to Europe via the Persian Gulf.
Rafa Valls (Lotto Soudal) was an aggressor at last year's race and will likewise need to repeat his move on Challambra to vie for victory. Brendan Canty (Cannondale-Drapac) has recovered from the virus that knocked him out of the Tour Down Under. The Australian showed his form at the Australian nationals with a late attack on what he thought was the final lap. Canty should have no problems counting the three circuits around Geelong and is another climber to watch on the course.
Orica-Scott are yet to taste victory at the race but in Simon Gerrans and Esteban Chaves have a dangerous duo for the finale. Chaves' chances are more likely to eventuate with a late attack while Gerrans has consistently proven his ability in reduced bunch sprints. While Gerrans missed out on defending his Tour Down Under title, he demonstrated he is still a dangerous rider with silver earlier in the month at the nationals.
Should it come down to a reduced bunch sprint, Gerrans will be confident of his chances to open his 2017 account. Haas, fourth at Tour Down Under, and McCarthy, third overall, are two riders keen on continuing their January form and could well break through for a deserved victory.
Petr Vakoc (Quick-Step Floors) and TJ Slagter (Cannondale-Drapac) are two riders in the frame to make it three foreign winners in as many years on the course. As are the likes of Gianluca Brambilla (Quick-Step Floors) and Jan Bakelants (AG2R-La Mondiale).
Finally, last year's runner-up Leigh Howard (Aqua Blue Sports) is a local lad on debut for his new team full of new energy and motivation for the 2017 season.
Cyclingnews will have live coverage of the race along with a full race report, results and photo gallery. As the race is being broadcast live, check you local guides for television listings.