The Federation University AusCycling Road National Championships will again be run in and around the regional city of Ballarat but despite the familiar location it’s another year when its anything but racing as usual, with the COVID-19 pandemic still having a considerable impact on the state of play.
Like last year the number of European-based professional riders making the trip home to battle for the green and gold striped jersey will be pared back due to the barriers to travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Domestic riders will arrive having faced another year of limited race opportunities to develop their teamwork and gauge key local rivals after a raft of cancellations across the National Road Series.
Another COVID-19 hurdle has also been added in 2022, with the nation that previously spent much of the pandemic with low daily case numbers facing a surge that has seen the count rising from under 2,000 a day a month ago to over 70,000, even with the likelihood of significant undercounting due to limitations of the testing systems across key states. There are already riders sidelined by infection or close contact with it.
The first national titles that will be awarded are in the time trials on Wednesday January 12, and the favourites couldn’t be any more clear cut in the elite categories. Regular rivals for the title in the men’s race against the clock, Rohan Dennis (Jumbo-Visma) and Luke Durbridge (Bike Exchange-Jayco) look to be head and shoulders above their rivals while Grace Brown appears almost unbeatable. However, the contest for the rest of the podium positions are wide open.
Then on Friday, it is onto the criteriums, with Ruby Roseman-Gannon (BikeExchange-Jayco) marking herself out as a top rider to watch after taking out double stage victories at this year’s Lexus of Blackburn Bay Crits while the battle between men's winner Blake Quick (InForm TMX MAKE) and second-placed Jensen Plowright (Equipe Groupama FDJ Conti), both 21, is bound to draw extra attention to the U23 race.
As the road races unfold over the weekend it’s likely to be some of the most open racing seen in recent years, with the usually dominant presence of Australia’s only WorldTour squad, Team BikeExchange-Jayco, whittled down to just a handful of riders across the women’s and men’s elite road races on Sunday.
That sets up the women’s race as a battle of strong riders, such as Brown, Roseman-Gannon and Rachel Neylan against the strength in numbers of the well-represented domestic teams while in the men’s elite race, defending champion Cameron Meyer will have just two teammates to help him in his plight, as he targets a third title in a row. Jumbo-Visma will also unusually be on almost equal footing to Bike Exchange-Jayco this year, fielding the powerful duo of Chris Harper and Dennis, to try and fend off the Australian-based team as well as powerful domestic squads such as Team BridgeLane, Oliver’s Racing and InForm TMX MAKE.
Cyclingnews will be providing coverage of the racing, news, and results throughout the week but first let’s take a closer look at the courses and who to watch across the time trials, criteriums, and road races.
- Wednesday January 12 at 15:45 (AEDT)
- 28.6 km total length (2 laps of pink course)
After coming fourth at the Olympic Games this year Grace Brown looks set to reclaim the jersey of Australia’s time trial champion, which she last wore in 2019, particularly as her main rival and two-time defending champion Sarah Gigante is absent as she recovers from health problems. After coming back from shoulder surgery, the early forced racing rest means Brown is also further ahead in her training post-break than she has been the last couple of years, so is likely to be hitting the Australian season further along the upswing toward her peak than the last two years. While Brown, who will be making her debut in FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope colours at the time trial, may be a clear level above her rivals there is bound to be tight competition for those lower steps.
There aren’t many opportunities to practice the art of time trialling in race conditions domestically but in recent years a number of strong riders have formed a promising cluster below Gigante and Brown, from the likes of Nicole Frain (Roxsolt Liv SRAM) – who last year took third – to Danielle de Francesco (ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast), Alana Forster (Butterfields Racing Team) and Lisa Jacob (Knights of Suburbia), who left no doubt that she’s heading into Nationals with strong form after closing down a move by Brown on stage 1 of the Bay Crits and then coming fourth on stage 2.
- Wednesday January 12 at 17:30 AEDT
- 37.5 km total length (2 laps of yellow course)
In the elite men’s category a battle for the national time trial title that’s played out regularly over the last decade will be re-ignited in 2022. With defending champion Luke Plapp absent after having been a COVID-19 contact, all eyes will be on Rohan Dennis, who won the title three years in a row from 2016 to 2018, and Luke Durbridge, who took the win in 2012 and 2013 as well as in 2019 and 2020.
The two have stood side by side on the top two steps of the elite time trial podium at Nationals five times and this year looks set to make it a sixth. However, even though Durbridge has the more recent Australian titles, beating the two-time world champion in the discipline, who also won an Olympic bronze medal in Tokyo, looks like a formidable task.
The Para-cycling, junior, and U23 men's time trial categories are running before the elite races on Wednesday, while on Thursday club team time trials are on the schedule.
Elite women and U23 women
- Friday January 14 at 17:00 AEDT
- 40 laps of 1.1km course to total 44km
Ruby Roseman-Gannon has regularly made it to the podium of the criterium, coming second last year behind the now retired Annette Edmondson, and this year she is a clear favourite for the top step, particularly after dominating the Bay Crits. She’ll be operating with just one teammate though, but an extremely valuable one in Alexandra Manly who is bound to make the most of her track power and placement on the criterium course. There will also be a number of powerful teams with some serious firepower to try and curtail Roseman-Gannon's national title dreams. Sunday’s Bay Crits break companion Matilda Raynolds (InForm TMX MAKE) has had more high-level crit experience than most this year, with a stint in the US. Turning the tables on Roseman-Gannon would also no doubt help make up for the missed title opportunity of last year when Raynolds and a number of other contenders hit the deck in a crash near the front of the race on the final corner.
Then there is Peta Mullens (Roxsolt Liv SRAM), who also got caught in that 2021 crash and just last weekend missed her first Bay Crits since debuting in the race in 2005 in order to rest up for Nationals after injuring her wrist and knee in a spill on the final day of 2021. If she makes it to the start line of the criterium she’s one that should never be discounted when there is a national title at stake, as evidenced by her tally of 12 across varied disciplines. Teammate Courtney Sherwell, who won the sprint category at Bay Crits is another to watch. So is last year’s U23 winner and fourth-placed rider overall, Maeve Plouffe (ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) as well as teammate Alex Martin-Wallace, who along with Neve Bradbury (Canyon-SRAM) is among the U23 riders who also have the potential to make a run at the elite podium.
Elite men and U23 men
- Friday January 14 with U23 men at 15:50pm AEDT and the elite men at 18:30 AEDT
- U23 men 30 laps of 1.1 km course to total 33km
- Elite men 40 laps of 1.1km course to total 44km
The U23 men's category, which unlike the women’s category is raced separately from the elite, is set to be a fiercely contested race with the rivalry of Blake Quick (InForm TMX MAKE) and Jensen Plowright (Equipe Groupama-FDJ Conti) likely to carry over from the Bay Crits – where they finished first and second overall. Quick, however, carries a solid advantage this time lining up with a strong team of nine while Plowright will be flying solo. Also, watch out for Kurt Eather (Oliver’s Racing), 19-year-old Henry Dietze (Giant Racing) who has a bit of a habit of popping up close to the front at crits, and defending champion Matthew Rice (Lotto Soudal Development Team).
Turning to the elite men's race, while it may have been Brenton Jones InForm TMX MAKE teammate Quick who stole the show at the Bay Crits, the experienced hand and solid form of the 2019 national criterium champion was clearly visible throughout. Particularly given his dominant performance in December’s National Road Season closing event, a third place overall at Bay Crits, all while playing the consummate teammate, is bound to make Jones a marked rider in the elite men’s criterium.
Nick White (Team BridgeLane), who last year came second to Kaden Groves (BikeExchange) in the championship race and finished just behind Jones in the Bay Crits, is among a strong clutch of rivals. This year he will also be lining up with some extra fire-power and experience on the already strong team with James Whelan – racing with EF-Education until the end of 2021 – joining Team BridgeLane. This year, with Groves absent, it’ll be up to Meyer and Durbridge to fly the flag for BikeExchange-Jayco. Based on their Bay Crits form ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast’s Craig Wiggins, who last year stood on the U23 podium, and Zack Gilmore could also provide some sturdy opposition.
The Para-cycling and junior categories are running before the U23 and elite races on Friday.
Elite and U23 women
- Sunday January 16 at 8:50 AEDT
- 9 laps to total 104.4 km
Normally a race dominated by BikeExchange-Jayco, new signing Ruby Roseman-Gannon will be joined by just Alexandra Manly in representing the only Australian based Women’s WorldTeam. Still, as a rider with tactical nous and a serious turn of speed, who despite being only 23 and a newly-minted professional has plenty of experience battling it out near the front of the elite fields, there’s no writing her off. Particularly when Manly, despite her recent focus on the track, also knows what it takes to be at the pointy end of the road race in Buninyong.
A number of other key riders and serious contenders will be flying solo, from Grace Brown (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope, who has stood on the road race podium that last two years while racing with Team BikeExchange, Neve Bradbury (Canyon-SRAM) and Rachel Neylan (Cofidis). Neylan knows all to well how to navigate the race solo and is a top-ten regular at the National Championships, having also found her way to the podium three times.
These riders, however, will be facing stiff opposition in the form of a group of strong domestic teams who will have long worked toward the event as a key target for the season. Newly formed women’s team InForm TMX MAKE is coming into the racing with an extremely strong roster that combines the experience of former WorldTour professional Carlee Taylor with the firepower of Matilda Raynolds and Amber Pate, who both made a major mark on last year’s event. Pate came fourth in 2021 while Raynolds took part in the crucial break, though still suffering following the criterium crash, couldn't hold in till the end.
Roxsolt Liv SRAM has the only rider lining up at this year’s event who has previously won the title, Peta Mullens, as well as Nicole Frain who finished in the top ten last year. Then there is ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast, which will be delivering a particularly strong contingent in the U23 category, including Anya Louw, while Knights of Suburbia Racing is fielding the defending U23 champion Emily Watts, who took the title by coming fifth overall in the combined elite/U23 race in 2021.
Elite men and U23 men
- U23 men on Saturday 15 January at 13:20 AEDT
- 12 laps to total 139.2 km
- Elite men on Sunday 16 January at 12:30 AEDT
- 16 laps to total 185.6 km
In the men’s elite category it is again a matter of the domestic teams dominating the numbers with a few WorldTour professionals thrown into the mix. BikeExchange-Jayco, will have three riders, with Luke Durbridge and Callum Scotson joining defending champion Cameron Meyer who last year made it two titles in a row after delivering a perfectly-timed sprint.
Luke Plapp may have missed his time trial defence but is expected to be able to travel to Victoria in time for the road race to line up in the colours of his new team Ineos-Grenadiers while Jumbo-Visma’s Chris Harper will be in the rare position of having a teammate with Rohan Dennis joining the squad this year. They could make a dangerous duo, with even a solo Harper managing to find his way onto the second step of the podium in 2019.
James Whelan is another rider who knows how to make a mark on the race even while riding alone, coming sixth last year when he was racing for EF Education-Nippo. One silver lining after the end of his WorldTour contract is that he will be facing up to Nationals in a strong squad, having joined Team BridgeLane. InForm TMX Make may not come in with the same strength that they had in 2021, when Kelland O’Brien took second to Meyer in the road race, but still have Mark O’Brien on the roster who is a rider with a string of top ten results in the race.
InForm TMX MAKE, however, do look like the team to beat in the U23 category on Saturday, with a powerful contingent of 12 on the start list that includes two of the podium finishers of 2021, Rudy Porter and Carter Turnbull. The road races across all the other categories, outside the elite, also takes place on Saturday.
How to watch
Highlights are scheduled to show on SBS On Demand and SBS Cycling Central after the time trials.
The elite criteriums on Friday January 14 will be shown from 17:00 AEDT on SBS Cycling Central via a Facebook live stream, SBS On Demand, Fox Sports and Global Cycling Network (GCN).
The U23 men's road race on Saturday January 15 will be televised from 14:00 to 17:00 AEDT on SBS One or SBS VICELAND and SBS On Demand.
Televised coverage of the Elite road races, which also includes the U23 women, are set to begin at 10:00 AEDT on Sunday January 15 running through 17:30 AEDT on SBS, SBS On Demand, Fox Sports and Global Cycling Network (GCN).
If you live outside a broadcast zone or are on holiday outside your country and find that the live streams to be geo-restricted, you can get around this by getting access to them by simulating being back in your home country via a 'virtual private network', or VPN, for your laptop, tablet or mobile.
Our sister site TechRadar tested hundreds of VPNs and recommends the number-one VPN currently available as Express VPN. With ExpressVPN, you can watch on many devices at once including Smart TVs, Fire TV Stick, PC, Mac, iPhone, Android phone, iPads, tablets, etc.
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