Ballarat – Ballarat 187km
A race that most people know every inch of. We are back in Buninyong for another Aussie Road Race, with 16 laps of the Mount Buninyong circuit. A lap that’s normally too hard for the fast men, but not hard enough for the climbers.
Cameron Meyer is looking to win his third consecutive title, but this year we have a different looking start list compared to recent history.
On paper, 2.86km at 5.3% isn’t hard, but when you are doing it on lap 15 and 16 it starts to burn. This is the main point in the circuit, but I don’t recall many years when the winning move went here. In my opinion, that’s what makes the circuit such a good one, you just don’t know where the big move will come.
A lovely day, with temperatures reaching around 28 degrees. The wind normally plays a big part in this race, this year we’ll have a gentle tailwind of 7km/h for the climb, which is bad news for the sprinters.
For years we’ve seen Bike Exchange/Orica dominate this race. They normally rock up with a huge squad, one that gives them a massive tactical advantage, but not this year. Due to riders staying in Europe because of COVID, they only have three starters: Durbridge, Meyer, and Callum Scotson. They simply don’t have the manpower to control the race, which really does open it up. Team BridgeLane are normally the strongest of the local teams, they have eight riders in the race, which does give them an advantage. The problem for them is that they don’t have strength in depth, quite a few of their riders won’t be a feature deep into the race.
What about the other World Tour teams? Team Jumbo-Visma have two strong options, while DSM and Ineos are flying solo. As none of the big teams have enough domestiques to control the race, we are stepping into the unknown. BridgeLane must try and get riders into the morning break, once it goes, I’m not sure anyone will have the strength to bring it back. The big riders know that the start of the race will be hugely important, they’ll closely monitor what BridgeLane are trying to do before deciding on their plan of action.
Once the break does go, we’ll have to see if they work together, it all depends on the composition. Back in the peloton, we’ll have to see if anyone wants to take up the chase. Looking at all the World Tour teams, Callum Scotson looks like the only domestique. Now, I don’t care who’s in the break, one rider isn’t going to bring them back. I think what I’m trying to say is that this race is a tactical nightmare, I’m glad I’m not a DS!
The Preview Show
I’m joined by Chris Harper of Team Jumbo-Visma to look ahead to the race.
BikeExchange Jayco – they have two strong options in Durbridge and Meyer, both of whom have won here before. In recent editions Durbridge has acted as domestique for Meyer, something I don’t think we’ll see this year. Both riders are always very strong at this time of year, we’ll see plenty of them throughout the race. Meyer would love to win another title, one of his main strengths is his sprint after a tough day, but his preparations have been hampered by hand surgery in November. How they approach the race will be interesting, they do have the option of trying to get someone in the break and seeing if it survives. I expect they’ll start without much pressure, something that could work in their favour.
Jumbo-Visma – Rohan Dennis looked very impressive in the TT, a great indicator for this race. He’s never finished the RR before, but it’s never really been a big target for him. Joining him is Chris Harper, a rider who’s gone very close to winning the jersey, finishing 3rd in 2018 and 2nd in 2019. Harper is an excellent rider for this course, he has the climbing ability to put others into difficulty on the climb, and he’ll be delighted to now have a teammate, something that he’s missed in the last couple of years. Understandably, there will be a lot of focus on Dennis as he has the TT ability to disappear up the road, but I think Harper is their better option. He was very close to winning last year, he looked like the strongest rider for several laps, but he used up his energy too early and blew on the final climb.
BridgeLane – Whelan and White look like their best options. Whelan has just stepped down from the World Tour after three years with EF, he’ll be hoping to make a point. Nick White is a former under 23 champion, and he finished 4th last year in the elite race. Having six riders to support these two puts BridgeLane into a strong position, both protected riders should be able to sit in the wheels until the last two laps. Saving energy in this race is vital, it really can be the difference between winning and losing. White is probably the best option for the team, the Ballarat local would love to win in his hometown.
UKYO – they have Dyball and Earle, two riders who know this course well. COVID ruined their 2021, the Asia calendar was wiped out by the virus. Dyball is your classic skinny climber, Earle is more of a puncheur. Both will sense a massive opportunity to take advantage of the smaller world tour teams, it must have been frustrating in the past to come up against a dominant BikeExchange.
Luke Plapp – missed the TT due to being a COVID close contact, not ideal preparation for the road race. At one-point last year it looked like the title was his, but his effort was from too far out and he blew up in the closing stages. This year he should be waiting until nearer the end before firing his bullets, but the lack of teammates makes it very hard for him. It’s tricky for a solo rider to win a race like this, but Plapp is an incredible cyclist. He’s only just turned 21, but his age won’t stop him from winning. My only doubt is the amount of time he’s just spent in isolation and not out on the road. He would have been clocking up the kilometres on his home trainer, but there really is no substitute for riding on the road.
BridgeLane have the numbers, but do they have the quality required to win the race? The best option for the World Tour riders will be to make the first couple of laps as hard as possible, forcing an elite breakaway, even though this is a risky strategy. It’s in the best interests of Dennis, Harper, Durbridge, Meyer, Harper, Dennis and Hamilton to try and get rid of as many of the local riders as possible. If they sit back and wait for the race to unfold, they could find themselves blocked in, without any hope of winning. I’m not sure how the race will develop but I think Chris Harper will take the win. He loves this course, he has the experience, he has the legs and now he has a teammate!