For the second year running, the Jayco Herald Sun Tour gets underway with a twilight prologue along Melbourne’s Yarra River. The 62nd edition of the UCI 2.1 race will only feature the one WorldTour team this year, Orica-GreenEdge, leaving the door open for riders to step up and leave their mark on the race.
The route for 2015 features several regular start and finish towns with the final stage to Arthurs Seat again likely to determine the overall winner.
Defending champion Simon Clarke is hungry to repeat his 2014 heroics and is backed by a GreenEdge team with several other cards to play. While eying off the overall, the team is also aiming to deliver Caleb Ewan to his first professional win and dominate the five day race.
Pro-Continental team, Androni Giocattoli makes it debut at the race while Drapac, MTN-Qhubeka and UnitedHealthcare are back and all four squads feature riders capable of stage wins and high overall placing’s.
Completing them are several Continental teams who will want to prove they are not simply there to make up the numbers. Finally, three national teams have been invited along and all three squads containing plenty of young talent and WorldTour experience capable of causing an upset or two.
After the short 2.1km prologue, which should take the riders a shade under around three minutes to complete, stage one starts north of Melbourne in Mt Macedon. The 152km stage is one for the sprinters with its flat finish in Bendigo, but will feature the pivotal Mount Alexander, the site of the race winning move last year.
However with 50km to come after its ascent, the peloton should regroup with the likes of Ewan, Tyler Farrar and Matt Goss (MTN-Qhubeka) and Steele von Hoff (KordaMentha Australia) jostling for the win and possibly the leader’s jersey.
Starting in Bendigo’s Tom Flood Velodrome, stage two will take the riders to Nagambie 120km later with the sprinters set to challenge each again once again. The hometown of Black Caviar, the legendary race horse, was also a finish at last year’s event with the sprinters mistiming their efforts as they aimed for the 100 metre arch only to find the finish line was just beyond them. There won’t be any repeat offence this year and stage one’s second place getter is sure to have a belly full of fire.
Stage three is another familiar location with the peloton to start at Gerry Ryan’s Mitchelton Winery and finish in Nagambie for the second straight day. The 148km stage is almost flat affair except for the sole king of the mountains climb of the day in the final third but there is enough time for the sprinters to get back on and a carbon copy of the day’s finish is likely to conclude the stage.
The fourth and final stage of the race starts and finishes on Arthurs Seat in the Mornington Peninsula. There was an anti-climactic finish last year when the stage was cancelled due to the threat of bushfires but the cooler weather this year should see the stage go ahead as planned.
The 125km stage will feature three ascents of the climb of which the hardest section comes 1.5km into the 3km climb, which averages 8.1%, although the last 600 metres straightens out and provides the opportunity for a rider to celebrate stage victory and possibly the overall win
Riders to watch
Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge)
Simon Clarke is the outright favourite to win a second Sun Tour crown but he and his GreenEdge teammates will need to ride a canny and tactical race to overcome the fact that all the other teams will be riding against them.
The Arthurs Seat climb suits the characteristics of Clarke who simply needs to ensure he is within a comfortable position of his rivals ahead of the final day before attacking and soloing away. One factor that works against Clarke is the team support of Ewan on the flat stages. The team should be prepared and professional enough to deal with stage and GC ambitions considering they will have no WorldTour rivals.
Should Clarke be marked out of the race, Cameron Meyer is the ideal replacement and is more than capable of stealing victory for himself and GreenEdge.
Lachlan Morton (KordaMentha Australia)
Having spent the last few years with the Garmin and Chipotle set-up, Lachlan Morton has stepped down to Continental level with the Jelly-Belly Maxxis team so that he can race alongside brother Gus. Lachlan is the younger of the two and a natural climber but is has found the demands of being a ‘full time racer’ detracting from his love of riding but looks to be in good form and mentally refreshed.
With a strong squad that includes last year’s runner-up Cam Wurf and Gus, a Morton double punch on Arthurs Seat looks likely but a stealth attack during the flat sprinters stages may be on the cards to unsettle the peloton and catch them unawares as Wurf did last year.
Tanner Putt (UnitedHealthcare)
Two-time U23 USA national champion Tanner Putt enters the race off the back of 14th place in his UnitedHealthcare debut at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. The 22-year-old is making his professional debut down under and while he is aiming to ‘learn’ this year, Putt and teammate Lucas Euser could cause some damage and surprise up Arthurs Seat.
Caleb Ewan (Orica-Australia)
It feels like Caleb Ewan is a season professional, such is the press he has generated but the 20-year-old is yet to record a debut win. Having come close at the Australian nationals early-last month, the blustery conditions during Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race were not suited to his characteristics.
Ewan should have three bites at the cherry, and possibly the prologue as well, but will be against tough competition. Von Hoff got the better of him in the national criterium title after Ewan had won three straight at the Bat Crits while the MTN-Qhubeka duo of Goss and Farrar are further competition but there is no better time to than the present for Ewan and is his last chance to open his account on home soil before jetting off overseas.
Paddy Bevin and Joe Cooper (Avanti)
Avanti enter the Sun Tour with two kiwi’s in Paddy Bevin and Joe Cooper posing threat to the overall. 2014 NRS champion and newly crowned New Zealand national road champion, Cooper, is aiming for a top result as he looks to move up the to the WorldTour in 2016. The time trial specialist has shown he can climb and a good prologue will have him on the front foot leaving him to cover the move of Clarke et al.
Bevin has shown his talents against the clock, sprinting and climbing to confirm he is a rider to watch. Thirteenth place at the Cadel Evans Road Race suggests he enters the race in form and with a strong Avanti team should be charging for a podium finish.
Cyclingnews will have full race reports, results, photos and news items throughout the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.