With the northern hemisphere deep in winter and 'cross taking over from road cycling as the discipline of choice, in Australia the new year sees the best men and women from down under compete in the Victorian city of Ballarat for the green and gold national jerseys. While there is no Richie Porte (BMC) or Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) on the start list, the quality and talent runs deep in the men's, women's and U23 fields for the January 4-8 championships.
Cyclingnews will have complete coverage of the Australian national championships with race reports and results, start times, rider interviews, news and features, and photography.
Events and courses
Ballarat and Buninyong once again play host to the Australian national championships with riders looking to emulate the prospectors of the mid 19th century and strike it rich with a gold medal. The Victorian city of Ballarat first held the championships back in 2002 and besides the exception of a two-year move across the state border to Mount Torrens in 2005-06, it has proved to be a popular location. However, there is the perennial call from the sprinters for a change to a course that better suits their capabilities.
The championships will follow the recently introduced schedule of Wednesday night criteriums, Thursday time trials, and a race-free Friday ahead of the weekend road races. The grand fondo championships will be held early-Saturday morning with the U23 men's race held in the early afternoon. 'Super Sunday' means an early start for the elite women who roll out at 8am and a hot afternoon for the elite men with the trade off being live free-to-air television coverage and a Buninyong circuit packed with spectators.
Sturt St at twilight will be the setting for the first green and gold jerseys in 2017 with the U23 men to cover 30 laps of the 1.1km circuit which starts and finishes in front of the Golden City Hotel. The Elite women/U23 women's race will also cover 33km and is the second race of the evening. The men's 44km race is the third and final of the opening night with the added distance of ten laps to excite the fans and sap the riders' legs.
The action then moves out to Buninyong for the time trials on a challenging and hilly out-and-back course. The U23 men and women will compete on a 29.3km course that features a shorter turn around point than the elite men who cover 40.9km with all three events using the same start/finish location.
With no changes to the 10km road race circuit, Warrenheip St remains the start/finish location with Midland Highway and Mount Buninyong Rd the decisive climbs. The back-half of the course along Yankee Flat Rd, Gear Ave, and Fisken Rd follows the climbing before the fast finale down Geelong Road and back into the township via Warrenheip St. The U23 men will cover the circuit 13 times for a total of 132.6km to decide the 2017 champion. The Elite women cover the shorter distance of 102.0km over ten laps, while the men's race remains the longest the three at 18 laps and 183.6km in total.
Since its 2012 debut, Orica-Scott have been the team to beat across the championships. With a lean return in 2016 and the fact the team haven't won the road race title since 2014, the sole Australian WorldTour team is sure to come out all guns blazing in 2017. Caleb Ewan is the reigning criterium champion and again starts at the man to beat on Sturt St aiming to set to standard for his Orica-Scott team. Two-time winner Steele von Hoff also shapes as a dangerous rider who knows how to conquer both the course and Ewan and doesn't require a team do so. New IsoWhey Sports Swisswellness duo Jesse Kerrison, who won the U23 title in 2016, and Scott Sunderland will likewise be men to watch, as will their teammate and 2012 champion Anthony Giacoppo.
Cam Meyer took a memorable victory back in 2013 and is hungry for success as he returns to the road after taking several months out of the sports in 2016. Quartet Chris Hamilton (Team Sunweb), Jay McCarthy (Bora-Hansgrohe), Brenton Jones (JLT Condor), and Scott Law (Cylance Pro Cycling) are all riding for new teams in 2017, adding depth and quality to the startlist and all capable of victory on their given day.
Against the clock, BMC's Rohan Dennis is the man to beat as the defending champion. Dennis was second to now teammate Richie Porte, who isn't racing the nationals in 2017, in 2015 and then reversed the result for his first senior title in 2016. Former U23 champion against the clock, Miles Scotson, makes his debut for the team against the clock and looks like challenging for the podium. With a season of European racing under his belt and a better position dialled in, Sean Lake is aiming to repeat his podium result in the time trial.
Orica-Scott trio Michael Hepburn, Luke Durbridge and Damien Howson have all been honing their form and racing hard at the 'bay crits' in preparation for the time trial and will ensure a place on the podium will be well deserved.
Cam Wurf is another name to add into the mix with the time trial a major goal in 2017 for the Tasmanian as he told Cyclingnews. Ben Dyball and Brendan Canty (Cannondale-Drapac) are two other riders on the start list to watch out for.
Sunday's road race is what the majority of the riders are chasing at the championships and the 2017 start list is a packed affair. Two-time winner Simon Gerrans leads the list of favourites for the green and gold, leading an Orica-Scott team packed with options. 2013 champion Durbridge and 2015 runner-up Ewan are two cards the WorldTour team can play, ensuring they will starting the race with a degree of tactical flexibility.
Dimension Data shape as one of the biggest threats to Orica-Scott's ambitions with the triumvirate of Nathan Haas, Ben O'Connor and Lachlan Morton all starting and capable of grabbing the win. The Cannondale-Drapac team with Canty and Will Clarke will also look to cause problems and challenge for the podium.
Dominant domestic team IsoWhey Sports Swisswellness will have the most numbers of any team on the day with quality to match its quantity. Chris Hamilton (Team Sunweb), Nathan Earle (Team Ukyo), Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal), and the Meyer brothers, Cam and Meyer, are all individual riders who will look to throw a few cats among the pigeons à la Jack Bobridge in 2016.
The women's Orica-Scott squad will be aiming to replicate the success of its male counterparts and complete a clean sweep of the championships starting with the opening night criterium. 2014 champion Sarah Roy packs the fastest finish of the Orica-Scott riders although new signing Georgia Baker isn't far behind in the speed stakes.
Two-time winner Kimberley Wells, two-time individual pursuit world champion Rebecca Wiasak, and Peta Mullens (Hagens Berman Supermint) will look to upset the Orica-Scott train and lead the list of challengers.
Shara Gillow turns out for FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope for the first time in the time trial, chasing a record equalling fifth national title to match Kathy Watt. The 29-year-old will need to conquer current champion Katrin Garfoot who has the advantage of starting last. Kate Perry, Rebecca Mackey, and Wiasak look most likely to challenge for the third place on the podium.
In the road race, Orica-Scott will start as the team to beat with its two two-time winners, Gracie Elvin and Amanda Spratt, leading the line. With strong support from Garfoot, Roy, Loren Rowney, Jessica Allen, Jenelle Crooks, and Alex Manly. Ruth Corset is a consistent animator of the women's race and will be a thorn in the side of Orica-Scott. As will Lauren Kitchen (WM3 Cycling), Carlee Taylor (Team Sunweb) and Mullens.
Australia's future talents will contest the U23 events this week with several riders already elite world champions, Olympic medallists, and Olympians. A mechanical ruined the chances of Daniel Fitter in the finale of the 2016 but the 20-year-old's current form is unknown as he starts with his new Subaru NSWIS team. The in-form Sam Welsford shapes as a man to beat after a season of great success on the track. Scott Bowden starts his transition from mountain biking to the road at the nationals and is an outside chance for the podium. Other names to watch include Alex Porter, Cyrus Monk, and Jai Hindley.
Callum Scotson starts the time trial as the defending champion and favourite for a second title in the colours of the BMC Development squad. Michael Storer and Angus Lyons will both aim to improve from top-ten to top-five or the podium. Alastair Christie-Johnston, Harry Sweeny, and Joshua Harrison add their names to the list of challengers.
In the road race, last year's runner-up Lucas Hamilton will be a tough man to beat but will need to get the better of the likes of Hindley, Storer, Bowden, Monk, and Storer. With several surprise results over the years, the U23 race is often the most unpredictable of the three road races while allowing the young men of the peloton to announce themselves on the national stage.