After the criteruims and time trials, the Australian road national championships reaches a crescendo this weekend with the elite men's and women's road races. The women will tackle the 10.2km Buninyong circuit ten times while the men will complete 18 laps of the same course for a distance of 183.6km. The race will start and finish on Warrenheip Street where big screens and radio will keep spectators up to date on the races. The climb up Mt Buninyong will once again be decisive in the outcome of the race with fans packing the road side to give the race a European feel.
Cyclingnews has put together a list of a few of the riders to watch in the men's and women's races.
Cadel Evans (BMC)
The only Australian to have won the Tour de France and world championships will line up for one final crack at taking home the green and gold jersey. Evans was second last year behind Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) having ridden the race without a single teammate. With Gerrans out of the race due to a pre-Christmas broken collarbone, Evans' odds have shortened and with Rohan Dennis and Campbell Flakemore to call upon for help the 37-year-old could be on track for a fairy tale conclusion to his career. With a fast finish and legs capable of matching the likes of Richie Porte up the climbs, Evans' characteristics suit numerous race scenarios which makes him so dangerous and his rivals will look to make the race as hard as possible as a result.
Richie Porte (Team Sky)
Richie Porte hadn't won a time trial since 2013 until Thursday afternoon when he blitzed a world class field to claim his first elite national title. Orica-GreeEdge's sports director Matt White isn't alone in calling Porte the "strongest rider in the world right now." Porte has finished third at the titles on the two occasions that Gerrans has won the race and has shown he can race with only minimal support. With Nathan Earle for company, the 29-year-old has a teammate he can rely on and a rider that can also challenge for the podium. To win the race, Porte needs to go to the line solo as his sprinting is not at the same standard as Evans for example. If Porte wins the race, he will be the first rider since Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEdge) in 2013 to win both the road and time trial title in one year.
Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge)
With Gerrans out, Orica-GreenEdge enter the race for the first time without the favourites tag around its neck. With several other options in the absence of the defending champion, Meyer will be the joker in the deck. With the national time trial and criterium titles already on his palmares, Meyer could complete the hat trick on Sunday having shown his ability several times of the parcours. Last year Meyer was instrumental in getting Gerrans over the line first and with intimate knowledge of the course, he will be a rider to keep on eye and one the peloton doesn't want to get away on his own.
Darren Lapthorne (Drapac)
The 2007 Australian champion is a perennial feature of the championships and regularly seen animating the race. Lapthorne will be supported by a strengthened Drapac squad and with Graeme Brown as road captain and Tim Roe for company, a podium result is on the cards.
Other riders to watch during the race will be David Tanner (IAM Cycling) and Bora-Argon 18's Zak Dempster who might just fly under the radar and spring a surprise or two on the peloton with a late attack.
Australian Continental teams BudgetForklifts, African Wildlife Safaris, CharterMason and health.com.au-search2retain will all be active and looking to get riders into the break while the New Zealand registered Avanti Racing Team will be looking to the likes of Mitch Lovelock-Fay, Neil van der Ploeg and Pat Shaw to post a top result.
Gracie Elvin (Orica-AIS)
Having won back-to-back titles in 2014, Grace Elvin starts the women's road race as a favourite for a third straight win. Elvin was aggressive at the Bay Crits, winning solo on the tough Portarlington circuit and continued her aggressive racing at the national criterium on Wednesday night. Orica-AIS enter the race with just three riders this year and as a result, rival teams are sensing that the green and gold jersey is theirs for the taking. Dropped on the final lap of the 2014 championships, Elvin dug deep to catch the leaders and out sprint Lauren Kitchen for the win and her never say die attitude means the 26-year-old will be heavily marked.
Tiffany Cromwell (Velocio-SRAM)
Tiffany Cromwell, the female Australian cyclist of the year, starts the race road as a favourite for her first elite title and the expected wet weather conditions will favour her characteristics. A national jersey would be further confirmation of the 26-year-old's growing stature in the women's peloton and possibly spur her onto bigger things in Europe in 2015. A quiet Bay Crits might have been a bluff by Cromwell, who was forced to race on a borrowed bike after her Cervelo was stolen in Adelaide, who will surely animate the race up the Mt Bunninyong climb and look to isolate the likes of Elvin.
Other riders to watch include Peta Mullens and Jo Hogan who have shown themselves on the hilly course in recent years and an inattentive peloton could see either rider slip away and ride off to victory. Rachel Neylan, a silver medallist at the 2012 Worlds, is looking to get back to her best and the national championships would be the perfect location for her to do so.
NRS champion Ruth Corset is a former winner on the parcours and could pull off an upset against the bigger teams while her 2014 teammate Ellen Skerritt is also likely to challenge for the podium and is the favourite for the U23 title.
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