Round six of the Subaru National Road Series, the Lakes Oil Tour of Gippsland sees the focus return to the speed merchants with four criteriums and a kermesse to be raced over the eight stages of the five-day event.
Huon Salmon – Genesys Wealth Advisers has been the dominant team so far, having claimed every event bar the Adelaide Tour. Their young climber Jack Haig leads the individual rankings on 46 points, with teammate Nathan Earle just two points in arrears. Jack Anderson (Budget Forklifts) is the sole non-member of the Orange Army in the top five.
Last year's winner, Will Walker (Drapac) won't be making the trip to Phillip Island to defend his title but there is no shortage of contenders in 2013. Anthony Giacoppo (Huon Salmon – Genesys Wealth Advisers) returns to the NRS having collected two podiums with his team in Asia. The stage winner at Jelajah Malaysia pushed Walker all the way at Gippsland in 2012, collecting a stage and three other podium finishes and is expected to feature just as consistently this time around.
Budget's 19-year-old flyer Jesse Kerrison, winner of the points classification in the last three events, will no doubt be ready to add to his last-up stage win from the North Western Tour. Should the squad's lead-out, spearheaded by Anderson and Sam Horgan, work as well as it did last month Budget will push Huon-Genesys all the way. Kerrison is developing quite the rivalry with Scott Law (GPM Data#3) and the latter will be keen to add to his tally of two stage wins this season from the Tour de Perth and the Battle on the Border.
Alex Morgan spearheads a Jayco-VIS-Apollo outfit and in his first NRS event of 2013, will be looking to translate the experience gained on the Belgian kermesse circuit into success on home soil. Morgan's teammate from the Australian world championship-winning team pursuit squad, Alex Edmondson will be in the mix for the Euride Racing outfit after a solid block in the velodromes of Europe.
With Team Polygon back in action, so too is Ben Grenda. The Tour of Toowoomba stage winner adds to a hot field as the NRS picks up speed with two events over the next month.
The Tour of Gippsland returns with a familiar mix of fast criteriums and lumpy road races. Over five days, eight stages and 517 kilometres the Tour will put riders through their paces as they vie for crucial NRS points.
Riders hoping for a reprieve from the rigours of double stages will be disappointed with three of the five days of the tour forcing riders to saddle up twice. With this in mind, day one does not disappoint. The opening stage brings riders to the seaside town of Rhyll for 30 laps of a fast 1.4km criterium circuit. The afternoon then sees riders battling the elements over 66 kilometres on the wild, windy but hopefully not wet Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit.
Taking in historic roads used in previous Tours of Gippsland and Herald Sun Tours the Tour of Gippsland throws riders on their heads coming into day two. The 91.6km Stage 3 from Leongatha to Yinnar takes riders over two official KOMs and throws in two intermediate sprints for good measure. Although the hardest KOM of the day, coming into Limonite, is only 3km at six percent gradient, the undulating nature of the profile means this course is harder than initial observations suggest. Owing to wind and team tactics this stage will be crucial in setting up the overall general classification
Day three brings riders to the fast and flowing criterium circuit in Sale. Over thirty laps of a 1.2km circuit, riders will do their best to avoid crashes and snatch the stage honours as they reach the half-way point in the tour. The afternoon brings riders to the queen stage of this year's tour over 97.6km from Sale to Licola. If a sprinter is to take overall honours this year, they still need to tackle the two KOMs during this stage that highlight the back end of this stage. Without a doubt, those who favour themselves when the road points upward will inevitably try to leave their fast twitch brethren behind. Look for the strong teams such as Budget or Huon-Genesys to try and neutralise the race for their GC contenders.
Stage 6 takes riders through a 36km criterium circuit in Lakes Entrance that will feature a corner 150m. The afternoon Stage 7 takes riders over 69 very windy kilometres between Lakes Entrance and Metung and this is the stage overall contenders will be wary of. As the road ducks and weaves in and out of valleys the wind is ever changing and there lie a multitude of launch pads for the aggressors in the peloton.
The final day presents anything but formalities as riders tackle the tumultuous Traralgon criterium circuit. Uphill, turn, downhill, turn, rinse and repeat 30 times. This circuit presents a tortuous trial for GC contenders just hoping to survive. For the criterium specialists, they will be lining up at least 30 minutes before the start ready for blood, figuratively and literally.