The opening stage of the 2017 Herald Sun Tour will be crucial not just for deciding the overall but for how the race will play, insisted two-time winner Simon Gerrans on the eve of the 64th edition. Speaking at the Richmond Rowing Club on the banks of the Yarra River, close to where the prologue will be held Wednesday twilight, the two-time winner described how he sees the 29km climb up Falls Creek affecting the dynamics of the race and whether Orica-Scott or Team Sky will call the shots.
"As I have said, it is going to be down to the race up Falls Creek to decide who is really going to take control of the race," Gerrans said of the stage. "Both Orica-Scott and Team Sky will want a battle on Falls Creek and we will both want our leader right up there on that stage. From then on, whoever loses out on that stage will be dishing it up to the other team for the rest of the week I think."
Second at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race Sunday, 36-year-old Gerrans will be aiming to elevate Colombian teammate Esteban Chaves onto the top step of the podium after he impressed on his Australian racing debut at the Tour Down Under, finishing second to Richie Porte (BMC). Gerrans hasn't raced the Herald Sun Tour since 2014 but knows the Victorian roads as well as anyone in the peloton.
"Esteban is looking really good. We have seen him performing well already on courses that really don’t suit his capabilities down to the ground. When we get into the big mountains in the Victorian Alps, I think we will see Esteban really come into his own," he said of Chaves, who was third at the Vuelta a Espana last year with Chris Froome second and Nairo Quintana first.
Gerrans was a teammate of Froome's at Team Sky, only racing the three Ardennes classics in 2010 together, and also a teammate of now-Sky-director-sportif Brett Lancaster at Cervelo and Orica-GreenEdge. While Gerrans' inside knowledge of Team Sky might not completely be up to date, the canny rider knows how to read a race and will be key to Orica-Scott's ambitions of claiming a big win before the 'summer of cycling' comes to a close.
"There are a couple of stages after the one up Falls Creek that I think I can be a real contender for, but the big objective this week here is to win the overall," said Gerrans of the team aims and his chances of going for a stage win. "If stage 1 goes well and we have Esteban right up there, hopefully we will be defending the lead from thereon."
Orica have won the race twice since its 2012 debut in the professional peloton and having finished second at the major race of the Australian summer, will be hungry to make it third time lucky and create the platform for Chaves' Grand Tour success in 2017.