Racing is back people, it’s been a long winter! As usual, we start in Australia with the criterium championships. Like previous years, the race continues in Ballarat.
The race uses a classic “hot-dog” circuit, which has to be covered the following amounts:-
Under 23 Men’s – 30 laps, 33km.
Women – 30 laps, 33km.
Men – 40 laps, 44km.
Under 23 Men
Reigning champion, Jesse Kerrison, has moved up to the elite level, so he is not here to defend his crown. Instead, it looks like being a battle between Dan Fitter and Sam Welsford. Fitter was all set to take the win in 2016, but a mechanical inside the final 100m, cost him gold, instead finishing with bronze. Fitter has a fast finish and will be determined to put that behind him and grab the win. Sam Welsford is developing quite a reputation for himself. The track star won silver in Rio in the team pursuit, but went better at the World Championship, claiming the rainbow jersey. December was also a great month for the youngster, he won the Australian Madison title with Cameron Meyer and followed that up with wins in some recent races. This is a rider on top form.
Prediction – Sam Welsford winning the bunch sprint.
Orica were the dominant team in 2016, but still lost the race to Sophie Mackay. After the recent Bay Crits, they will be looking to attack the race and take home the title. The problem for them is a lack of a top sprinter. They arrive with eight riders, putting them at a massive advantage compared to the others. The lack of a quick finisher means that they have to try and split the race and use their numbers.
Given their strength, I think that Orica will try and split the race very early. They will look to pack a break full of their riders and anyone else who can hang on. Once they establish the move they will continue to attack. The ideal scenario is to get one of their strongest riders away solo, as the other top riders are all on different teams, making it very hard to organise a chase. It won’t be easy, but they do have strength in numbers. The main opposition should come from Peta Mullens, Kimberley Wells, Sophie Mackay and Shannon Malseed.
Prediction – Jessica Allen with a solo win.
Unlike the women’s event, Orica are not the strongest team in the field. The team has started to develop an international feel to it, making them much more of a force in Grand Tours. The downside to that is the team are lacking Aussie riders to help Caleb Ewan defend his criterium title. Ewan can only count on the help of 3 riders: Docker, Gerrans and Howson. With the ITT taking place the following day, they have decided to give Hepburn and Durbridge a break and they will not compete. I don’t think Orica will even try to manage all the breaks, so expect to see them go for it. With so little help from his team, Ewan is going to have to go for a long one, if he wants to retain his title.
The Bay Crits have shown us a few things. Caleb Ewan was going to win stage one, but he crashed in the final corner. The pocket rocket was happy to attack in stage two, but was pegged back by Robbie Hucker. That allowed Michael Hepburn to take a strong solo win. Ewan eventually returned to the top of the podium with a sprint win on stage 3. He seems to be starting the season in good form.
Trying to stop them will be the old Avanti team, now called IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness. They arrive with ten riders, including fast finishers, Jesse Kerrison and Scott Sunderland. Away from these quick finishers, they also have a whole range of riders who could potentially win. Their team is packed full of opportunists, who will sniff out any hint of a chance. The team won’t be overly pleased with a sprint, as Ewan is clearly the quickest, so they will also hope for a break. With the two biggest teams happy for the break to survive, we could be in for some crazy racing. Look towards Anthony Giacoppo, Chris Harper, Jesse Kerrison and Robbie Hucker for some breakaway fun.
Brenton Jones and Steele Von Hoff will be hoping that the two big teams cancel each other out and the race ends in a sprint. Von Hoff won here in 2015, and Jones is always 2nd! Both don’t really have any teammates to help, so they’ll be hoping to get lucky. Again, it’s hard to see anyone beating Ewan in a sprint, but this is cycling, you just never know!
Prediction – Chris Harper winning from a small group.