The Australian 'summer of cycling' gets a boost in 2017 with the additional race day of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race Towards Zero Race Melbourne criterium on the city's Albert Park F1 circuit. The new event adds to the WorldTour one-day race held Sunday, and the women's UCI1.2 race on Saturday in Geelong.
The race, both a women's and men's event, is an opportunity for the sprinters to strut their stuff and aim for victory in the heart of Melbourne before Sunday's tougher one-day race around Geelong. The women's race features 12 laps of the 5.3km circuit around Albert Park Lake while the men will complete 22 laps for a total 116.6km.
The new event continues in a recent trend in cycling to hold races on F1 tracks as witnessed at the Abu Dhabi Tour, Giro d'Italia, and Vuelta a Espana.
Men to watch
Fresh from his wins at the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic, Australian national criterium championships, and Tour Down Under, Caleb Ewan firms as the man to beat on a course suited to his fast finishing. Orica-Scott will be missing Roger Kluge and Daryl Impey for Ewan's leadout train but the 22-year-old has proven he can win from a multitude of possibilities. He can still call upon the likes of Michael Hepburn, Luke Durbridge and Mitch Docker.
Bora-Hansgrohe's Sam Bennett was a rare rival in the sprints to Ewan and the Irishman is surely keen for a good showing on a course that also suits his fast finishing. There is no Peter Sagan in Bora's squad for the race to ensure Bennett gets the 100% backing of the team.
Team Sky's Danny van Poppel was another rider to try and take it up to Ewan at the Tour Down Under and will be aiming to get one over the Australian. Teammate Chris Froome makes his season debut at the race but his goals are later in the week in the road race and next week at the Herald Sun Tour. Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe will be riding for van Poppel with Sky aiming to open its 2017 account.
Aqua Blue Sports makes its debut as a professional team at the criterium and in Leigh Howard have a fast finisher. Howard was second in last year's road race and on home soil should be one of the Pro-Continental riders to challenge the world tour pros. Finally, Brenton Jones with the Australian team will be hungry for one final crack at Ewan this summer after close calls in the Bay Crits and national criterium title.
Women to watch
The women's Orica-Scott team have been a dominant force this January at the 'summer of cycling' with a clean sweep of the national titles and Santos Women's Tour. The home team will start as favourites for the criterium, and Sunday's road race, with Sarah Roy likely to lead the line for a bunch sprint finish.
Ale Cipollini's Chloe Hosking has shown her early-season form with a stage win and the points classification at the Santos Women's Tour. The Australian once again proved her quality in bunch sprint finishes last season in Europe and will be keen to raise her arms in triumph on home soil before the classics.
Cylance's Kirsten Wild was Hosking's chief rival at the Santos Women's Tour and firms as one the favourites for the sprint friendly race. She will be backed by a strong team who quickly clicked at last week's race and will be hungry for another race win under her belt before also heading back to Europe following the cancellation of the Tour of Qatar. A race Wild dominated in the past.
UnitedHealthcare's Lauretta Hanson is another fast sprinter in the bunch that teams will be weary off come Wednesday. Wiggle High5's Annette Edmondson is another Australian to watch on home soil while Hagen Berman Supermint's Peta Mullens and Lizzie Williams always pose a dangerous threat.
Canyon-SRAM's Barbara Guarischi and Rebecca Wiasak (High5 Dream team) are two more riders to keep on eye with the action sure to be fast and furious as rider do their best to emulate the F1 drivers around Albert Park.