The final ascent of Stage 1 at this year's Battle on the Border, the second round of the Subaru National Road Series may not decide the winner of the overall classification but it designed to expose those riders who may not have their best climbing legs on the opening day of the four-day, five-stage race.
Mount Warning, a shield volcano that has been inactive for the past 23 million years is the final test for the 139-rider field and with an average gradient of 9 percent and two tough sections in excess of 20 percent; it's a day for the climbers with GC ambitions to shine.
According to race director Mike Crawley, there's a handful of riders who will scuttle up the 4.4km climb without too much trouble and if the best climbers are in a late breakaway, they are likely not to be seen again until the race reaches the finish line.
"I think there is a number of riders here who have the capability to climb the entire space without too much hassle," Crawley told Cyclingnews. "Certainly they are going to be quite worn by the time they get to the top but if it's a small break and the climbers are in the break then they will win the day."
The bunch will do a near 180 degreee turn onto the narrow road that leads up the climb nearing the end of the 111km stage and dropping the team's designated climber on or toward the front is imperative. There are a two smaller creek-crossing bridges to negotiate on the lower slopes and if the team's best hope for a result is not positioned in the first few wheels, it will be a tough ask for them to stay with those hunting for stage glory.
"My view is that it will be a team race," said Crawley. "The team will take their climber(s) over the hills and through the course and then they will need to be front and centre of the race because once you get to Mount Warning, if you are not on the front I don't think you'll be able to get up to the front."
With the winner of Stage 1 likely to be one of the strongest in the field they will not be afforded the luxury of a parade for the following three days. Stage 2 is arguably just as tough as the Mount Warning kick-off and the team with the yellow jersey will have its work cut out in order to retain the lead entering Saturday's double-stage time trial (9.3km) and street-circuit criterium. Unfortunately for the TT specialists, Crawley believes the TT course is designed to produce minimal time gaps.
"The time trial is not set to give a big time advantage, it's set to be a short distance time trial. The (Battle of the Border) event has always been built around difficult road racing and I think the Friday road race in many regards is just as hard as Thurday's (Stage 1) road race with the exception that it doesn't have Mount Warning. I actually think it's technical harder with more climbs."
The NRS men will start the Battle on the Border today while the NRS women will begin their three-day, four-stage tour on Friday.
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