Scott Sunderland, race director of the inaugural Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race on February 1, said Cadel Evans would "stop" if he felt he was about to be "gifted" victory in the event named after him as a way of being sent off into retirement on a winning note.
Speaking to Cyclingnews about the inaugural race that will be 174km long, and start and finish at Geelong in Victoria, Australia where the 2010 world road race championship races finished, Sunderland believes Evans would not want for anything less than a hard fought win.
Sunderland said Evans' outlook to racing would not allow for any favours no matter how well intended.
Furthermore, with the race's UCI 1.1 ranking and the vision of organisers Victorian Major Events for it as a long term fixture, far too much is at stake for it to turn into a celebratory parade for the 2011 Tour de France champion - as does happen for some riders in their last race but usually in far lower profile events.
"If he thought someone was gifting that race, he would stop," Sunderland said. "He is like that. He would want to earn it. You have your young riders there too …
"Some of these other young kids … they are not going to lay down for anybody."
Deflecting the favouritism
Evans (BMC) arrived back in Australia last Tuesday to prepare for the final three races of his career – those being the national road titles at Buninyong, Victoria and Tour Down Under in South Australia in January and then Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road race.
On Wednesday morning at the official launch of the race route in Melbourne, Evans played down his chances in winning 'his’ race to a packed press conference, citing the unsuitability of the course that he worked closely with Sunderland in designing with his knowledge of the local roads.
Asked about his winning prospects, Evans smiled and said, "Easier said than done. I designed a course but I didn't design it in my favour. It doesn't seem to make sense but with the longevity of the event in mind ... that's the way we've come to make the course."
Evans believes the race route is one that will be suited for a rider like fellow Australian Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) who won the 2010 under-23 world road race title that finished in Geelong, on a course of which elements will be included in this new race.
Why not to rule Evans out
Sunderland has no doubt about Evans’ intent to try and win though – and he won't rule out the possibility of Evans producing a fairytale win. "It’s not a stage race where you have GC riders taking riders to the finish not worried about winning … the win is everything on a one day race," Sunderland said. "I am not saying Cadel can absolutely win. But I don’t think we should underestimate that he is going to be a chance either."
Sunderland believes Evans will also be helped by not having to worry about how hitting an early peak might impact his preparation for a Grand Tour – as in past years. "He doesn’t have a Giro or Tour [preparation] to worry about," Sunderland said. "It’s just this race, the nationals and Tour Down Under. He’ll adapt his training to it.
"Yes, Michael Matthews will have a good chance. Yes, if he comes back a Matt Goss [MTN-Qhubeka] … these types of riders and many others [will have a chance].
"But Cadel knows the roads … And it is not only Cadel who won’t want to go with Michael Matthews to the finish either. There is going to be everyone else there."
Something for everyone
With its UCI ranking, 18 teams are permitted in the race with nine of them being WorldTour teams – a number that Sunderland is optimistic that he and Victorian Major Events can attract. The race, to be held on a Sunday, will be preceded the day before with an elite women’s race and a community ride that entrants must register for.
"As a 1.1 [race] only 50 per cent of the teams can be WorldTour," said Sunderland. "We are going to be aiming for 18 teams, so that means we would be allowed to have nine WorldTour teams. That’s the goal and we will see how we go with it.
"We have some stiff competition – [with competing] races Dubai, Qatar and Oman.
"But we are confident we will be able to attract teams from the Tour Down Under."
Sunderland said the race route will suit many riders. It includes Evans’ Australian home town of Barwon Heads, the Bellarine Peninsula and the Great Ocean Road. But he said the major influence will likely be the weather that prevails on the day. Sunderland said the challenge in devising the route that he and Evans came up with was, "Getting a course that will have everything and allowing for weather conditions.
"It is a course that could see the race come down to the last lap; or it might be a course that after 10 or 15 kilometres could see the peloton split into five or six pieces.
"If you have the wind blowing on the stretch to Barwon Heads and then from 13th Beach to Bells Beach, it could be all over the place. But if it’s a nice still day, beautiful weather I think it will be fought out on the [three] finishing laps."
Rupert Guinness is a sports writer for The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)
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