Every year whilst the northern hemisphere undergoes its traditional winter hibernation from road cycling the exact opposite occurs Down Under, and this year is no different as the Victorian regional city of Ballarat prepares yet again to hold the Cycling Australia Road National Championships.
Each year riders face the same dilemma; do they build form now and go all in for a chance to take the green and gold jersey to Europe? Or, knowing the risk that a peak in January is long gone by the Spring Classics or the Tour de France, do they keep their powder dry. Only after the elite men’s road race on Sunday afternoon will we have all the answers, but for now, these are just a few of the riders to watch.
Cadel Evans - BMC
Will he or won’t he, is he or isn’t he? His participation and his form, neither are certain but his name is up in lights nonetheless. The biggest name in Australian road cycling history is set to pay his respects and the fans will come out in force to great him. With his season goal now slated to be the Giro d’Italia in May his preparation has been dialled a notch ahead of previous years and the national titles are the earliest it can all begin. He may be outnumbered, he may not be on the top of his form, but his third place at the Giro last year also appeared to come out of nowhere. If anyone can surprise the form guide, Evans is the man.
Simon Gerrans – Orica-GreenEdge
Gerrans is the master of balancing his form; one peak in January, a plateau to the Spring Classics and a dip then kick for the Tour de France or Worlds. There are scarce few riders better able to micro manage their form. Gerrans won the U23 road race on the same road course in Buninyong just out of Ballarat in 2002 and his recent performances speak for themselves: Ninth in 2013, first in 2012 and third in 2011. The road race is a numbers game and numbers are what Gerrans’ Orica-GreenEdge team have. Realistically the team could back any of their starters if the race pans out as it did last year where Luke Durbridge landed the break of the day rode away to victory.
All else being equal, however, Gerrans is the man to bring home the champagne for Gerry Ryan. After fracturing his hip in the 2013 Vuelta, Gerrans’ off-season was brought forward by a month, he has since then told Cyclingnews that his recovery is complete and his performances driving the peloton at the Logie-Smith Lanyon Super Crit and sightings motor-pacing out on Beach Rd confirm that he is ready.
Matthew Lloyd – Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis team
“People know I rock up to win. It’s been a long time since racing [at top level], but it’s not as if I’ve forgotten how to do it well.” Those are fighting words from a fighting man and an aggressive attitude is what Lloyd conveyed to Cyclingnews when quizzed about his chances in Sunday’s road race. He won the title in 2008, was second in 2012 and his stage win and climbing jersey at the 2010 Giro, a highlight of what he is capable of.
In the aforementioned LSLS Super Crit Lloyd flew under the radar as he sat last wheel churning a massive gear the entire race. Lloyd rounded riders with ease and souplesse as they were dropped off the back of the motoring peloton; the climbing specialist was not really racing, he was just out for a speed session. One he will be glad to have in the bank when he returns to full-throttle racing at Ballarat. With Lloyd’s new team of Jelly Belly recently announced the crowd favourite will be full of beans as he takes to the start line, with Lloyd, expect the unexpected.
Luke Durbridge - Orica-GreenEdge
‘Turbo Durbo’ is Australia’s answer to Fabian Cancellara and his ability to lug his big frame over repeated climbs with ease proves this. In 2008 he first showed his name on the road scene with two top ten performances at the hilly Tour of Tasmania. He did so as a 17-year-old track rider weighing north of 80 kilograms, and he did so against some of the best riders on the domestic scene at the time; Richie Porte, Rohan Dennis, Leigh Howard and Jack Bobridge to name few.
He has since carried that reputation to many victories but two of the best were his time trial and road race title victories last year. He showed during the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic [Bay Crits] that his form was on song as he obliterated the field on the stage three Portarlington circuit, the circuit that all pundits agree is as good a form guide for nationals as you will get. There was talk of a sore throat but he has since confirmed he will start the time trial and the road race. He could do the double again, he really is that good.
Darren Lapthorne - Drapac Professional Cycling
Lapthorne is a logical and sentimental pick for Australian Cycling fans having won the title with Drapac Professional Cycling back in 2007. His life has since done a roundabout from Euro-Pro, to family tragedy, to retirement to once again being a full time bike rider with Drapac.
The new professional continental outfit has been busy in the Alpine town of Bright with an eight day camp and brings a number of riders who could take the title. Lachlan Norris and Will Clarke are another two who are reportedly tearing the legs off their teammates. The championships more often than not come down to who has the numbers on the day and thus it is Drapac who have the firepower to take it up to GreenEdge. Lapthorne is looking lean and all the rouleurs on his home-town bunch ride in Bendigo agree his pedalling is looking mean. The 30-year-old is ready to take the top step again.
Tim Roe - Budget Forklifts
Where has Tim Roe been? He has been doing the hard yards since his departure from the BMC top-tier squad to overcome injury and get back to the scintillating form that launched him into the WorldTour squad from Trek-Livestrong.
The Norton Summit climb in Adelaide is a popular benchmark for riders to track their form and recently Roe clocked the fastest time ever up the climb besting previous record holders Damien Howson (Orica GreenEdge) and Jack Bobridge (Belkin). Whilst regrouping his career with the BMC development team he took a memorable win in the 1.2 Romsée-Stavelot-Romsée in June of last year proving he has not forgotten how to win. With the backing of one of Australia’s strongest domestic teams in Budget Forklifts, Roe is ready to surprise.
Gracie Elvin - Orica-AIS
In 2012 Elvin was crowned the Oceania Road Champion. In 2013 she added an Australian road title to the trophy cabinet. Simply put: if there is an occasion, she will rise to it. The defending champion was on song at the recent Bay Crits taking fifth overall and spending a vast amount of time on the attack building her form coming into the titles. As a member of the ominously strong Orica-AIS women’s team, Elvin’s chances will be beholden to the tactics of the race, but a successful 2013 season with three podium finishes in Europe only confirms her pedigree.
Shara Gillow – Orica-AIS
The defending time trial champion is another woman who could claim either title this week. After becoming only the second woman ever -alongside Kathy Watt- to claim three national time trial titles in-a-row last year, Gillow went on to finish sixth in the road race. Gillow then won a stage at the Giro del Trentino and later stood on the podium after the stage eight time trial at the Giro Rosa.
She carried her form to a trial win and a second overall the Internationale Thüringen Rundfahrt which was soon followed by a third place at the Crono Champenois. Gillow is consistent, strong and on the hunt for another title in either discipline.
Tiffany Cromwell - Team Specialized-lululemon
The road race is a race of attrition, nutrition and position. Having finished a commendable ninth at the World Championships in Florence in 2013, Cromwell has shown she can master all three and thus remains a strong contender.
Her recent departure from the Orica-AIS team may provide her with more opportunities whilst in Europe, but back home in Australia it does leaves her sorely outnumbered and thus she needs to play her cards well. At the Bay Crits she finished on the podium in all but one stage and ended up third on GC. She won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on the road bike in 2013 and she took a stage at La Route de France on the time trial bike in 2009. She can challenge for either title and challenge she will.
Katrin Garfoot – Queensland Academy of Sport
Garfoot was the revelation of the 2013 season where she was crowned Oceania Road Champion as well as winning the Subaru National Road Series. She capped off the year as one of just four women chosen to receive an AIS scholarship after surviving the national institute’s gruelling boot camp. Before emigrating from Germany she saw the bicycle as simply a means of transport, but now as she readies herself to return to europe she carries the dream of one day turning her pedalling into a profession.
She told Cyclingnews on Tuesday that she is in good shape and “won’t be saving anything” so expect the recent Australian citizen to trouble the scorers in the time trial and road race.
Caleb Ewan – New South Wales Institute of Sport
NSWIS directeur Brad McGee confirmed to Cyclingnews that Ewan will be wearing the colours of his state and not those of either the Jayco WorldTour Academy or his future Orica GreenEdge team when he fronts up for the U23 road race on Saturday. McGee also confirmed that Ewan’s diplomacy may be tested as he searches to find friends amongst a hostile field of which Ewan is the sole NSWIS entrant. Such is the lottery game of the U23 road race these days that those riders who have AIS scholarships –and would normally race in Europe under the Jayco WorldTour Academy banner- will race for their respective institutes or trade teams. Last year the confusion was evident when a large group simply rolled off the front and were never seen again.
Ewan came down in training recently and donated some skin from his legs and hand to the asphalt, but his performances at the Bay Crits -a first, a second and a fifth- showed that his sprinting has not suffered. If he can tackle the climbs like he did in Florence last year where he took fourth in the U23 World Championships, he will be a hard man to beat.
Campbell Flakemore – Avanti Racing Team
Flakemore was disappointed last year to finish third in the U23 time trial and is a chance to take the top step this year. His 2013 European campaign with the WorldTour Academy was flawless with time trial victories at Olympia’s Tour, Internationale Thüringen-Rundfahrt U23 and Crono Champenois. A heavy race program, however, leading into the World Championships left him fatigued and he finished one spot off the time trial podium.
Flakemore has a strong turn of speed that has seen him take NRS stage victories in road races and criteriums, and his raw power gets him over repeated climbs comfortably meaning he can also perform in the road race. Unfortunately Flakemore has suffered an interrupted run in to the titles missing valuable sessions due to illness and thus performance is not guaranteed. We will only find out on the day.
Alex Morgan – Victorian Institute of Sport
Second in the U23 time trial last year, fourth in the junior World Time Trial Championships the year before, and a team pursuit World Champion; when it comes to getting aero and going fast, Morgan can do both, and do them well. A heavy schedule between track and road commitments left Morgan exhausted at the end of last year and the result was an enforced ten days off the bike. Therefore Morgan is in a similar position to Flakemore; all the ability but a questionable lead in means his performance could go either way. The hampered run ins of the two big favourites for the time trial leaves the door open for other riders such as Jordan Kerby (Drapac), Jack Haig (Avanti) or Miles Scotson (SASI) to take home green and gold glory.