The season-opening round of the Australian National Road Series may well set the standard for the bolstered 14-event calendar with the Woodside Tour de Perth attracting a primed and motivated field for the four-day tour that kicks-off on Rottnest Island from 11 April.
It's the first race of the New Year for many of Australia's top domestic riders and while some racers have filled the early months of the 2013 with Asia-based tours, most will be stepping into their first multi-day race of the year.
The number one squad from the NRS in 2012, Huon Salmon-Genesys Wealth Advisers has local Perth rider Anthony Giacoppo who will be motivated to get his first NRS win of 2013 while a number of other squads like Budget Forklifts, GPM-Data#3, search2retain, Target-Trek and Perth-registered squads Satalyst-Giant and Bianchi-Lotto-Arbitrage will be looking to get the season off to a winning start. Despite the notable absence of Drapac Professional Cycling the line-up for Perth is stacked with Australia's best domestic squads and cyclists.
The essentially car-free Island of Rottnest will play host to the first two days of racing with the entire field transported over via the Rottnest Express ferry – a cost covered by race organisers along with accommodation in an attempt to reduce the costs for the majority of the teams who are based on the other side of the country.
The East coast-dominated NRS has no doubt assisted in the growth of the sport on one side of the country but the organisers of the Perth-based tour have done a stellar job in making the race as attractive as possible for riders and teams from all parts of the country.
The 142-rider field has been delivered a level of support which otherwise would only been seen at races with a UCI status. The majority of teams and riders will travel to Western Australia from afar but race organiser Craig Smith-Gander has done everything in his power to ensure the financial burden is limited as much as possible.
"Perth is a long way away and it's a big decision for teams to come here," Smith-Gander told Cyclingnews in regard to his plan to provide financial support and logistical resources to the teams. The final two nights of accommodation in Perth has teams set-up at a race hotel that is heavily subsidised and all team cars are provided for the duration of the tour.
"Really, all the teams had to do is get here and pay a bit for accommodation [and event-scheduled meals]," he added.
A course for opportunists
Stage 1 will feature a 80km road race that uses an entirely closed-off 20km circuit to be contested four times while the following day will provide the time trial specialists an opportunity to set-up their bids for the general classification. A 20km test against the clock will do exactly that.
The limited number of cars on the island means that the race convoy will be relatively small but there will be a number of vehicles providing neutral service while the police are also on board to ensure the course remains clear at all times.
"It's a relative flat course for the road race but there's plenty of twists and turns so it can be quite easy for a break to get away on Rottnest," Smith-Gander told Cyclingnews.
"There's lots of places where a break can get away and stay away, and not be seen. A lot will depend on the wind, that can really cause a selection to be made. I think a bunch sprint is most likely but it's also possible that a small group could get away," he added.
The time trial uses a slightly modified version of the road circuit but as a couple of the roads are too narrow to hold the road race. Essentially it is one full lap of the previous day's race. No time trial bikes or clip-on aero bars will be allowed for the TT but the stronger riders will undoubtedly still come to the forefront at the end of the day.
The town of Kalamunda in the Perth Hills is the location for Stage 3 with three laps of the course making up the 120km race. Three solid climbs will need to be negotiated each lap however, the final time up Zig Zag will provide a most worthy winner. The climb itself is perhaps not steep or long enough to be truly decisive but the up and down nature of the rest of the course will certainly fatigue the legs before the finish.
"The Zig Zag has four big switchbacks and because the finish line is right at the top, I think it will be quite special. The race will be selective and there's plenty of Target King of the Mountains points on offer which riders will take advantage of," said Smith-Gander.
The final stage situated around Perry Lakes is the same location that was used for the 1962 Commonwealth, or rather Empire Games. The course is once again held along completely closed roads with an 8.1km circuit to be completed a total of 13 times. The final laps however, feature a little addition that will make the final day of the tour very difficult for anyone trying to retain their position on the general classification.
"The last three laps go up a hill inside the park which is narrow and very steep, about 600m but there is a 16% section in it! Whilst I expect the race to stay together for most of the race, the last three laps will form a selection. There's potential for the race to be won and lost in the last three laps of the race."