The 65th edition of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour closes out another busy summer of Australian cycling, providing a final opportunity for riders and teams to impress before moving on to the Middle East for the Dubai Tour and Tour of Oman, and the start of the European season.
WorldTour teams Mitchelton-Scott and Trek-Segafredo headline the start list with Professional Continental representation from Aqua Blue Sport, Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij and Israel Cycling Academy. The latter making their debut at the race. Nine Continental teams and the national Australian squad complete the line up at the race, which is held January 31 through to February 4. The race starts with a 1.6km prologue along the banks of the Yarra River and concludes in Kinglake.
The Wednesday evening prologue in the heart of Melbourne's CBD again kicks off the race but with a slight twist from previous editions. The prologue start and team presentation, shifts south from Federation Square to Alexandra Gardens, and as a result, the course is 500 metres shorter. With the reduced length, the time gaps in the battle for stage victory and overall are expected to be smaller than previous years but the racing no less fast and furious.
Stage 1 starts with an early-morning 150km transfer from the CBD out to Colac in the west. The rural town, celebrating its 170th birthday in 2018, will host the start of the stage with the peloton heading south then west along the great ocean road to its conclusion in Warrnambool over 161.6km. The stage is a 'mini' version of the Melbourne to Warrnambool classic with the final suiting a bunch sprint. Coastal crosswinds, though, could blow the race apart.
Warrnambool is the only location to host both a stage finish and start with the third day of racing rolling out of the port city for 198.6km in the saddle to Ballarat. Crosswinds again could cause havoc on the ride northeast with the race to take in a lap of the national championships circuit in Buninyong, sharing a similar finish line to the early-January event.
The race then heads north to Mitchelton Winery, the naming rights sponsor of the Australian WorldTour team, to start the longest stage of the race at 218km and sole summit finish in 2018 at Lake Mountain. Already a challenging course on an early-season 200km-plus leg-breaking ride, the slopes of Lake Mountain are sure to be decisive in the battle for the yellow jersey.
Arthurs Seat is again absent from the parcours of the Herald Sun Tour with the Kinglake finale of 2017 chosen to close out the race. Another lap of the undulating course has been added for 2018 with organisers hoping the inclement weather won't again spoil the spectacle. The stage is a final chance to shake up the GC and nab a stage win.
Riders to watch
Defending champion Damien Howson, 2015 winner Cameron Meyer and Esteban Chaves headline the Mitchelton-Scott team and the trio look formidable in the battle for the overall. Young climbers Lucas Hamilton and Rob Power have impressed when racing with the national team in previous years and will add further power to the team line up.
Fellow WorldTour team Trek-Segafredo starts with Ruben Guerreiro as their GC rider, recently ninth at the Tour Down Under, with Niklas Eg for back up. With the team winning five races in the last week, the winning streak could well continue Down Under. From the Pro Continental ranks, Nathan Earle (Israel Cycling Academy), and Calvin Watson (Aqua Blue Sport) are two names to watch in the race for yellow.
The Continental ranks are stacked with riders capable of making their mark on the race. Daniel Whitehouse (Interpro), Chris Harper and Cam Bayly (Bennelong SwissWellness), Brad Evans (Mobius BridgeLane), Jesse Featonby (EF Education-Drapac Development), Freddy Ovett (Australian Cycling Academy), and James Whelan (Australian national team) all names to watch.
Like the classifications, there will be a tight combat for stage wins. Starting with the prologue, Alex Frame (Trek-Segafredo), Michael Hepburn (Mitchelton-Scott), Lasse Norman Hansen (Aqua Blue Sport) and Ed Clancy (JLT Condor) start in the top tier of favourites partly due to their pedigree on the track. National Australian road champion Alex Edmondson is also capable of a fast prologue but could be better suited to the stage 1 finish in Warrnambool as a two-time runner-up in the one-day classic. For the sprint finishes, Steele von Hoff and Shane Archbold are two other riders capable of taking home the chocolates.
Finally, with a parcours that is open to aggressive and opportunistic racing, the Australian summer of cycling is set to finish in sizzling fashion. Make sure to keep clicking back to Cyclingnews, as we will have race reports, results, photos and news from the Herald Sun Tour.