With more than 150 riders scheduled to make the start on Sunday's 183km men's road race at the 2014 Cycling Australia Road National Championships, including big names like Cadel Evans, Richie Porte, Rohan Dennis and Matthew Lloyd, 2012 national champion Simon Gerrans says "all bets are off" with "no guarantees" of a three-peat performance from his Orica-GreenEdge squad that has made it two in a row in Ballarat after teammate Luke Durbridge took the green and gold stripes in 2013.
"It's a stacked field," Gerrans told Cyclingnews. "There are 30 Australians riding in the World Tour in 2014 and the vast majority of them will be lining up on the start. This is very likely the best field ever produced at the Australian championships."
While the 2013 Tour de France yellow jersey holder claims he is fully recovered from a broken hip suffered at the Vuelta de España in September, Gerrans, who also won the national road title in 2002 as an Under 23, feels that there is probably a bit of extra pressure on both himself and the team to continue its domestic dominance and start the new year on the right track.
"This is shaping up to be a fantastic race and one of the more talked about national titles in quite some time and it really highlights the depth that we have in Australian cycling at the moment.
"I'm pretty confident that Orica-GreenEdge will put on a good showing. But you see the strength of the other teams and the calibre of competition we are facing and it's only a matter of time before someone really knocks us off our pedestal. I just hope it doesn't come while I'm racing in the [Orica-GreenEdge] colours."
Orica-GreenEdge general manager Shayne Bannan agrees with Gerrans and told Cyclingnews that while his team has found success during its first two years, it not something to be taken for granted. "Obviously winning is our main objective, but it's always bloody hard to win here so we have to be on our best game to do that," he explained.
The rise of Australia's Drapac Pro Cycling team will only add to the collective pressure felt by GreenEdge as they will be fielding 13 riders to Orica's 12. Drapac is competing at the Pro-Continental level for the first time in 2014 and will be aiming to kick off their new status with a win at the national championships before facing off with their WorldTour rivals again two weeks later at the Tour Down Under.
"Drapac are going to be major contenders for the race. That will have the largest amount of the riders on the startline and their goal would be to start the year perfectly with a win," Gerrans told Cyclingnews. "But if you focus too much on one group of guys someone else will always slip away."
Gerrans' teammate and 2012 Vuelta mountain classification winner Simon Clarke concurs. "I just think we need to be cool, calm and collected. When we are racing 150 other guys we need to make good decisions. It's easy for a team to cover Gerro or just cover me, but to cover five guys that are going, well it makes it much more difficult. We need to rely on our numbers on Sunday to have a realistic chance of coming out on top."