Chris Froome is undoubtedly the star attraction of the 2016 Jayco Herald Sun Tour but in support of the two-time Tour de France champion is an ensemble cast featuring the likes of Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) and Australian national champion Jack Bobridge (Trek-Segafredo).
Team Sky's marquee rider has started his season at the Ruta de Sol and Tour of Oman for the last three years, winning all three events. Therefore, the 30-year-old is a favourite for a fourth season opening victory with Sunday's Arthurs Seat finale set the scene of his first victory of 2016. However, the Jayco Herald Sun Tour is much earlier in the year than either of the races above. Regardless of Froome's form, a new name on the honour roll is assured with no former winners lining up for the race.
There are three WorldTour teams for the 2016 edition of the race, Orica-GreenEdge, Team Sky and Trek-Segafredo, are joined by five Pro-Continental teams in Drapac Professional Cycling, United Healthcare Pro Cycling, Novo Nordisk, ONE Pro Cycling, Nippo Vini Fantini. Seven Continental teams and an Australian national team complete the lineup.
- The official 2016 start list
- Orica-GreenEdge confirms Ewan for Jayco Herald Sun Tour
- Froome leads strong Team Sky at Herald Sun Tour
- Jack Bobridge’s Project One Trek Madone - Gallery
The races begins with the now familiar Wednesday evening 2.1km prologue along Melbourne's Southbank that is the first indicator of who is in form and who is targeting overall success at Australia's oldest stage race. Drapac's Will Clarke has been a consistent performer against the clock on the narrow and technical course and should again challenge for victory and with it, the first leader's jersey of the race. Clarke punched his way around the course in a time of 2:35 minutes which should again be a benchmark time with only a handful seconds set to separate the top-30.
Having headed west from Melbourne in previous years, the race instead will explore the eastern side of Victoria before heading South to Arthurs Seat.
Stage 1 will see the peloton ride from Healesville to Healesville via a 126.1km loop that takes in the Yarra Valley wine region. With 20km to race, the peloton will encounter the category 1 Mt St Leonard climb, after which it is a fast downhill finish back into Healesville. The stage looks to be decided in a small bunch finish between the riders first over the hill with a yellow jersey likely awaiting the victor.
On paper, stage 2 is a day for the sprinters as the peloton covers 144.2km from Yarra Glen to Moe through country Victoria. The presence of a sharp 1km climb with seven kilometres to go will hurt the legs of the sprinters and should provide a platform for attacks but with limited opportunities for the fast men, expect the peloton to try and bring it back for a bunch gallop with Ewan aiming for the win.
Stage 3 is the longest of the race in 2016 at 146.2km with the peloton travelling south-east from Traralgon to the seaside town of Inverloch where the coastal winds are expected to affect the finale. The lumpy profile of the stage features two category two climbs that could potentially make things tricky for whoever is leading the race. Overall, the stage outcome should be another sprint finish but it's a day the GC can be lost in potential crosswinds through inattention.
The final day is the queen stage of the race with the peloton tackling Arthurs Seat on three ascents. The three-kilometre Mornington Peninsula climb averages 8.1% and should take the likes of Froome a tad under eight minutes for the final ascent. Drapac's Brendan Canty currently holds the Strava record with a time of 7:54 minutes from last year's race. The final 600 metres of the climb flattens out with the finish then suiting the climber who can best sprint from a small group should multiple riders arrive together.
With the stage often the deciding factor in the battle for the general classification, expect final lap fireworks on what is the last day of racing in the Australian summer.
The Riders to watch
Chris Frome (Team Sky)
Chris Froome is the obvious choice for overall victory even if his form and condition is largely unknown on the eve of the race. Froome has been training in Adelaide this last week having flown down under following the birth of his son, Kellan. A broken foot forced Froome to abandon the Vuelta a España in September although he recovered to take part in the late-October Saitama Criterium, which is the last time he pinned on a race number.
With a strong Sky backing him and a winner's mentality, it's unlikely Froome would have started his season so early and so far from home to only roll around in the peloton. Watch for him on Arthurs Seat but don't be surprised if Sky tries to mix things up a little earlier in the race.
Teammate Peter Kennaugh proved his form Sunday with a late race-winning move at Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, who alongside Sergio Henao, ensure Sky will have the most dangerous team for challenging the overall. The possibility of an allSky podium shouldn't be discounted.
Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge)
One month into the New Year and Caleb Ewan is the sprinter of the season. The 21-year-old has won every sprint he's contested and is a favourite to keep his run going at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. Ewan's stage wins last year came on the same Nagambie finish line on consecutive days. This year's race skips the hometown of equally fast racehorse Black Caviar, but that should be no issue for Ewan, who has shown he can win anywhere, anytime this summer.
He won't have a team entirely devoted to him but in Mitch Docker, Sam Bewley and Christian Meier has three riders at his disposal who have delivered the Vuelta a España stage winner to numerous wins already. Orica-Greenedge is also looking position Jack Haig as high as possible on the GC with Ewan likely to turn domestique on Sunday to help his fellow neo-pro.
Jack Bobridge (Trek-Segafredo)
A strong time trialist, Jack Bobridge will be looking for a bright start in the prologue as he tackles the race for just the second time in his career. The national Australian road champion has limited road races on his programme this season as he targets team pursuit gold in Rio. Having inked a one-year deal with Trek-Segafredo, a podium result would go some way to ensuring a second contract with the team.
The parcours is one that suits Bobridge's characteristics and as an aggressive rider, the 26-year-old could even look to force his way into a breakaway to mount his overall challenge. Expect the unexpected from Bobridge, who soloed 90km to his national title early last month.
At 96 riders, it's a small peloton for 2016 but there are several riders worth keeping your eye on this week. 2004 Giro d'Italia champion Damiano Cunego made his Australian racing debut at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and also line up at the race leading the Nippo-Vini Fantini squad. While Cunego is entering the final years of his professional career, Niccolò Bonifazio is only just starting his. The Trek-Segafredo rider was third on his debut for the team at Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and should challenge Ewan in the sprints.
Local lad Steele von Hoff makes his debut with ONE Pro Cycling and will be looking to turn his past podiums at the race into victories for the British Pro-Continental team who have James Oram for the GC. Riding for the KordaMentha - Australian National Team, the Hamilton's, Chris and Lucas, are two promising U23 riders who both made their Tour Down Under debut's last month and could well spring a surprise or two in their home state.
Cyclingnews will have full race reports, results, photos and news items throughout the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.