The Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race turns four in 2018 and is celebrating by adding a fourth ascension of Challambra Crescent on what is already a challenging finale.
The 2018 edition of the race is also its second at WorldTour level having first worked its way up from 1.1 to 1.HC. As a recent entrant into the WorldTour, not all 18 teams are required to race but 12 will take their place on the start line. Three Professional Continental squads and the Australian national team will also line out for the race.
The addition of a fourth climb up Challambra Crescent sees an overall reduction in the course length by 10 kilometres, down to 164km. The course again starts on the waterfront in Geelong, heads out to the Great Ocean Road then turns back inland for a few laps of the city and a finish where the riders left from in a touch over four hours later. The question is, will the changes force a new outcome in 2018?
The coastal loop is where the early breakaway should establish itself and the domestiques do the important muscle work to ensure their leaders are fresh for the second half of the race. With temperatures predicted for the high 30s, the coastal breeze will provide a short relief. A relatively flat opening gives way to rolling roads before the straights of Forest Rd and Hendy Main Rd. The possibility of crosswinds will add to the tension.
With just over 100km done, the peloton starts the first of the new laps. The race heads straight onto Challambra Crescent, skipping Hyland Street and reducing the lap length to 17km. The hilly loop puts the riders onto roads straight from the 2010 Worlds course before the double whammy of the Barwon Boulevard and Challambra Crescent ascents that will sap the riders' legs.
Coming 12.4km before the finish on the final lap, the 1km climb is where race-winning moves have been made in the past and is sure to see more fireworks come Sunday. Once the riders crest the climb, it's a fast downhill then flat run into the finish line on the waterfront. There is no certainty of a late attacker arriving alone with the flat run-in suiting a small group. The new final circuit though could well and truly shake things up.
For the 2017 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race start list, click here.
Riders to watch
Defending champion Nikias Arndt (Sunweb) is one rider who will feel the pain of the new circuit with the sprinter a surprise winner in 2017. The German packs a fast finish and won't be overlooked like he was last year by his rivals. The other former winner on the start line in 2018 is Peter Kennaugh in his second race with Bora-Hansgrohe. However, his team is likely to be riding for Jay McCarthy who will be aiming to erase the pain of 'exploding' on Willunga Hill at the Tour Down Under.
Nathan Haas (Katusha-Alpecin) also had a disappointing Tour Down Under by his own high standards and along with Jhonatan Restrepo, will be a rider to watch for a small bunch finish.
BMC fields its strong Australian trio for the third time this month with Richie Porte, Simon Gerrans and Rohan Dennis all lining out. An Australian is yet to win the race and as the representative of Cadel Evans' former team BMC, there is a level of pressure on to perform and get the win. Gerrans and Dennis the most likely, although don't discount Porte from repeating his aggressive efforts from the finale last year.
The rider who bested BMC at the Tour Down Under, Daryl Impey, flew under the radar to a degree last week and arrives in Geelong as a rider to watch. Clearly in form, the South African will be a marked man but will also be embracing his new role. In Cameron Meyer, Mitchelton-Scott have a more than capable 'plan b' and have options for the final. Esteban Chaves on his season debut is sure to test the legs but could find the heat and pace works against him.
Tom-Jelte Slagter (Dimension Data) and Dries Devenyns (QuickStep Floors) are two Europeans who could continue the winning streak of non-Australians and outsiders for the win. Also look to Ruben Guerreiro (Trek-Segafredo), Pierre Latour (AG2R-La Mondiale), Robert Gesink and George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo), Lachlan Morton and Nic Dlamini (Dimension Data), and US champion Larry Warbasse (Aqua Blue Sports).
After the Whereabouts issue put him out of the Tour Down Under, Belgian Bjorg Lambrecht makes his WorldTour debut with Lotto Soudal and will start as a darkhorse.
Cyclingnews will have news, a report, results and photo gallery from the race. With the race being broadcast live, check your local TV guides for full details
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