For 2015 there is added intrigue to the Melbourne to Warrnambool as Australia's oldest one-day race celebrates its 100th running, a record number of women take to the start line and the National Road Series (NRS) team award is neck and neck between Avanti and CharterMason-Giant in the penultimate race on the calendar.
The Doyenne of Australian cycling has never been an easy race to win, evidenced by the inability of any rider to defend their title. Oliver Kent-Spark will look to buck that trend when he lines up with his search2retain-health.com.au team at 7:30am on Saturday morning in Werribee for the 279km race.
Also added into the mix for 2015 is the aforementioned largest start list yet of women who are to tackle the race with 25 provisional starters.
Kent-Spark is one of several former winners to pin a race number this year but the Victorian's condition is somewhat unknown as he is yet to show the kind of form that saw him become of the riders of the NRS in 2014. Backed by a balanced team of youth and experience, Kent-Spark will have the advantage of knowing how to make the race winning move but will face several adversaries before he can raise his arms in triumph.
Overall NRS leader Pat Bevin will miss the race as he continues to recover from a knee injury that saw him withdraw from the National Capital Tour and miss the Tour of Tasmania last week. With CharterMason-Giant currently occupying top spot on the team rankings, Avanti will need a good performance to take back its usual position as the top domestic team.
Last year's overall NRS champion Joseph Cooper has proven his ability to win across terrains and occasions and is surely looking to end the season on a high as he continues to chase a WorldTour contract. Anthony Giacoppo provides the team with a sprint option, Mark O'Brien knows the Victorian roads like the back of his hand and the Kiwi trio of Taylor Gunman, Thomas Davison and Jason Christie could all spring a surprise on the day. Particularly knowing how high the stakes are.
CharterMason have one of the in-form riders of the NRS peloton in Benjamin Hill who has been near unstoppable since his return from a doping ban. Hill was fighting for overall Tour of Tasmania honours all last week and his chances for the victory could well depend upon his recovery and training throughout this week. The team also has David Edwards whose diesel engine is one of the strongest in the bunch.
Michael Schweizer has given African Wildlife Safaris a regular avenue to NRS stage win success but the 'Warny' is a different piece of cake with its 250km plus length ending the hopes of many a hopeful before. Sean Lake grabbed a stage win in Tasmania last week and is coming into the rich vein of form that saw the former rower take out Grafton to Inverell last year providing a realistic option for success in south-western Victoria.
Having occupied all three podium places in 2013, Budget Forklifts had to settle for 'just' third place last year with Jacob Kauffman. Sam Horgan, the 2013 victor, Kauffman and Jack Bobridge all provide significant fire power for the team who has enjoyed successful stints of racing in both North America and Asia this year.
Scott Sunderland has been one of the sprinters to watch in the NRS over the last few seasons but the former track sprinter may just find the length a little too far.
Last year's runner up Alex Edmondson makes a return from injury and is a late selection for the SASI squad that also includes the U23 national road and time trial champion Miles Scotson. Edmondson has raced little of late and like Sunderland, could find the distance to his disadvantage. However, the Warny is long enough for riders to go through multiple good patches and bad patches as two-time winner Joel Pearson told Cyclingnews.
Hayden Roulston has called time on his road career with Trek but having enjoyed a successful return to the track this month for the Oceania Championships is a genuine dark horse for the victory should he infiltrate a breakaway.
The largest starting list of women in the events history is thanks to the efforts of Monique Hanley and as a result the record of just 13 female finishers in history should be at least doubled. Nicole Whitburn, who rode the 2008 edition of the race, will be one of the riders in contention while Chloe McIntosh, Alexandria Nicholls, Brooke Anderson and Amy Bradley are all names to watch.
Inexperience is sure to get the better of several women on the day, as with the men, but Handley should be commended for encouraging the cyclists to take up and the challenge and inspire each other to make history on the 100th occasion of the second oldest one-day race in cycling history.