Australia National Championships 2018 - Preview

Once again, the rural Victorian city of Ballarat welcomes the cream of the crop of Australian riders for the national championships. While the northern hemisphere is deep into winter, the best men and women from Down Under are chasing the green and gold national jerseys on offer in the criterium, time trial and road race events.

The event, which takes place from January 3-7, kicks off with an evening criterium on the main street of Ballarat before the racing action moves east to Buninyong for the time trials and weekend road races.

Cyclingnews will have complete coverage of the Australian national championships with full race coverage, exclusive news and features from Ballarat and Buninyong.

Events and courses

Like the prospectors of the mid-19th century, riders will be aiming to take home gold in Ballarat and Buninyong. A slight adjustment has been made to the schedule for 2018, while a calendar clash has resulted in the traditional pre-race 'Bay Crits' series taking a break this year.

The Wednesday night criteriums will be the first hit of the season and the first chance of glory for many riders. The addition of para and U19 events to the schedule means Thursday is given over to the U23 time trial, with the elite men and women's race moved to Friday.

The Gran Fondo championships are again held early on Saturday morning, while the U23 men's race takes place the early afternoon. An informal memorial 'Lap for Lowndesy' will take place Saturday morning, paying tribute to Jason Lowndes, who died after being struck by a driver while training before Christmas.

'Super Sunday' continues in 2018 with an early start for the elite women's road race and a hot afternoon for the elite men. Both races with benefit from live free-to-air television coverage and a Buninyong circuit packed with spectators.

The 1.1km criterium circuit up and down Sturt Street is unchanged for 2018. Starting and finishing on Dawson Street, the riders take the left-hand turn one block up at Lyons Street for the fast ride down the backside to Lydiard Street then a slight uphill trip back under the start/finish gantry. For the U23 men and elite women, the length is 33km, while the elite men will cover 44km.

After the criteriums, Buninyong becomes the central location of the championships. The challenging and hilly out-and-back time trial course along Buninyong-Mt Mercer road is unchanged for 2018 with all three events using the same start/finish location. The U23 men and women will compete on a 29.3km course that features a shorter turn around point at Flemmings Road. The elite men cover 40.9km with the turnaround at Deerel-Mt Mercer road.

There is a minor alteration to the road race course that starts and finishes on Warrenheip Street in the middle of Buninyong. Fisken Road is removed from the course in 2018 with the lap extended to take in the Fed Uni campus before taking a left turn onto Geelong road toward the fast finish on Warrenheip Street. The Midland Highway and Mount Buninyong climb remain the centrepieces of the 11.6km lap.

The U23 men's race is 12 laps of the course for a total distance of 139.2km. The elite women's course is three laps shorter at 104km in distance while the elite men's race is two laps shorter than 2017 with 16 but a slightly longer distance of 185.6km.

Elite Men

Despite not having the Bay Crits to hone form and condition for the criterium title, Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) will line out as the favourite for a third straight title. Brenton Jones in his debut for Delko will be a challenger to Ewan, having featured on the podium in recent years. Bennelong-Swiss Wellness has enjoyed several wins and medals in the criterium title. With Steele von Hoff, a double winner, Anthony Giacoppo, Scott Sunderland, Scott Bowden, and Sam Crome, the team fields a formidable lineup. Mitchelton-Scott can also call upon former winner Cam Meyer and Alex Edmondson to back up Ewan.

Like Ewan, Rohan Dennis will also be chasing a third straight green and gold jersey at the national championships. Having made the time trial course his own in the last two years, the BMC man will again be the rider to beat. 2015 champion Richie Porte and Miles Scotson could well complete an all BMC podium. Former champion Luke Durbridge leads the charge for Mitchelton-Scott and, having pushed Dennis in 2017, should be confident in his chances. Sean Lake is an outsider for the podium and following a disappointing 2017 ride is confident of an upset.

In their first few years, Mitchelton-Scott were the team to beat in the road race but Australia's sole WorldTour team have been defeated in a handful of different scenarios since 2014. With a spread of top quality riders across WorldTour teams such as Mitchelton-Scott, BMC, EF Education First-Drapac, Dimension Data and Katusha-Alpecin, the race will be intriguing yet again.

BMC with Porte, Gerrans, Dennis and Scotson will be hard to beat, but the road race is often unpredictable. Meyer and Ewan for Mitchelton-Scott won't go down without a fight. Jay McCarthy, Nathan Haas and Brendan Canty are also sure to make their bid for success. Add a motivated mix of local Continental riders aiming to upset their larger rivals, and the battle for the men's green and gold jersey is sure to be hard-fought.

Elite Women

A number of former winners will line out for the criterium including defending champion Jessica Allen who will have Mitchelton-Scott teammate and 2014 champion Sarah Roy for company. Kimberley Wells and Lauren Kitchen will also be riders to watch as former champions. Ashlee Ankudinoff, Rebecca Wiasak, and Gracie Elvin add class and quality to the peloton.

The time trial is shaping up as a shootout between dual champion Katrin Garfoot and four-time champion Shara Gillow. Both Queenslanders are looking to strengthen their case for a Commonwealth Games place and will start as favourites. Outside chances for the win include Wiasak and Lucy Kennedy.

In the road race, Garfoot will also start as the defending champion and one of the riders to beat. She will be up against her former Mitchelton-Scott teammates Elvin and Spratt who have both won the title on two occasions. Rachel Neylan, Tiffany Cromwell, Shannon Malseed, Carlee Taylor, and Chloe Hosking have all animated the race in previous editions and will likely shape the outcome of the final podium.

U23 Men

For the criterium, Sam Welsford will start as a favourite following his recent road form. Cam Scott has also transferred his track speed onto the road over summer and will be a rider to watch. In the time trial, Callum Scotson is aiming for his third straight title and will start as the overwhelming favourite. Robert Stannard, Alex Porter, and Angus Lyons will be out to stop Scotson, adding depth to the field.

The road race was won in dominating solo fashion by Sam Jenner in 2017 and the New South Welshman will line out in defence of his title. Stannard, Porter, Cyrus Monk and Dylan Sunderland are other names to throw into the mix.

Numerous riders have announced themselves on the national stage in the road race and 2018 could well again see a young talent confirm their potential with a winning ride.

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