The traditional start to the season is back again in 2013 for the 24th time. The Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic may have a new name and increased cash in the coffers, but the event affectionately known as the 'Bay Crits' is the place for cycling's speed merchants to get the legs turning over after the off-season.
In 2013, the Bay Crits will be reduced by one stage back to three given the event runs back-to-back with the new-look Jayco Herald Sun Tour, but the racing should by no means be diminished.
Kicking off January 1 with the traditional hot dog circuit on Geelong's Ritchie Boulevard, racing will continue the following day in Portarlington with the toughest of all the circuits. The event concludes on January 3 in Williamstown along the shores of Hobsons Bay with tight corners testing what is normally a very nervous peloton.
In the men's field, 2012 champion Allan Davis won't return to defend his title after ticking the Bay Crits off his bucket list but there is no shortage of contenders to take the Queenslander's mantle.
Orica GreenEdge teammate Leigh Howard is the pick of his team, supported by the big engines of Luke Durbridge and Jens Mouris.
Meantime, 2012 runner-up young gun Caleb Ewan is back giving Bikebug a two-pronged attack with former Australian criterium champion, Jonathan Cantwell.
Third overall in 2012, Anthony Giacoppo spearheads the Huon Salmon - Genesys Wealth Advisers team with WorldTour neophyte Steele Von Hoff, with another of the Orange Train's riders, Brenton Jones capable of upsetting some of his more-fancied rivals.
Heading up a strong field from across the ditch, Greg Henderson will ride for Degani Bakery Cafe while Grays online / NZ Jerry Stock boasts an all-Kiwi line-up including Josh Atkins, James Oram and Mike Northey.
Other Australian domestic teams likely to make an impact include Drapac with 2012 Australian National Road Series winner Luke Davison in his first outing for the team and perhaps GPM / Data #3 through Scott Law.
Women's defending champion Melissa Hoskins will be back, headlining the Orica-AIS squad with 2012 stage winner Shara Gillow and another strong performer from the previous series, Amanda Spratt. Regular teammates Tiffany Cromwell and Gracie Elvin also lurk as individual entries.
Rochelle Gilmore (Wiggle Honda) will be chasing a record fourth series victory and will have strong support from Lauren Kitchen who finished as runner-up at the NSW Grand Prix Series and Emily Collins. Sophie Williamson just got the better of Kitchen in Wollongong and Cronulla in December, and the Kiwi will be looking to be in the mix despite not having a team.
Kimberley Wells and Rebecca Werner should keep Specialized-Securitor in the hunt, as should Peta Mullens and Rebecca Henderson for Anytime Fitness - Trek.
How it works:
Stage Winner -
The Stage winner is the first past the post for each individual Stage. Points of 12, 10, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 will be given each day for the first ten placegetters. The Overall Winner of the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic will be the rider with the most points from all the races at the finish on the final day.
Teams Classification -
Based on collective points of the first three riders per team each day.
Sprint Champion -
Collective points for the intermediate sprints held each day are 3, 2 and 1. This is a separate race inside the race and does not count for the Overall Classification.