Helensburgh > Wollongong 267.2km
The most important race of the year, the big one, the one where you get a special jersey for winning! After being starved of world tour racing for a couple of years, Australia will be delighted to see the best riders in the world back on their shores, and they’ve delivered a route full of intrigue and promise. The riders make the race, but they’ve been provided with everything they need for a brilliant day out.
A nice enough day with temperatures sitting at 18 degrees. The wind isn’t strong but will be a tailwind in the final 4km.
Mount Keira comes very early in the race, after just 34km of racing. Will anyone dare go fast up the climb with over 200km to go? Normally the answer would be no, but professional cycling is changing, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a team decide to rip up the rule book and set a fast pace on the climb.
We have 12 laps of the circuit to finish the race. This is the section where damage will be done, this is where the climbers and puncheurs need to make the difference. The first climb is Mount Ousley, which you’ll remember from the TT. The climb is around 600m at 7%, it looked steep in the TTs, and will soften the legs before the main hill of the day.
Mount Pleasant is the main course, it’s a big plate of steak and chips! We’re talking about 1km at 9%, and it goes up in two steps. The riders start the climb by taking a fast left-hand turn, and the first 100m of the climb is nice and easy, then it hits double digits. This section lasts for around 200m and features gradients above 17%. The riders then have around 400m of around 6-9% before the hill kicks right up near the crest, again we’re talking about close to 17%.
Once over the climb the road turns right and it’s 300m of fast downhill before the road kicks up to over 10% for another 100m. This means riders need to hit the accelerator as soon as Mount Pleasant is crested, so that they generate enough pace to fly up this little section without needing to use up any energy. Last time of asking, there’s just under 8km to go.
I’ve thought long and hard about this race, probably too much. We have a race of 270km, which contains 4120m of climbing, we have a lap circuit with lots of corners and we have repeated hill efforts every 18km. Despite my initial thoughts, I think we’re going to have a very selective race. All eyes are on Belgium, they have the favourite in Wout Van Aert, and a team looking to control the race for as long as possible. They start with eight men, but both Wout and Remco will be protected, which just leaves six to control the race. As usual, the Belgian selection has caused lots of arguments, in particular, the decision to leave Dylan Teuns at home. When you consider that they’re already missing Tiesj Benoot, I can understand why some Belgians are very disappointed by the omission of Teuns. It’s not all doom and gloom though, they still have Stuyven, Lampaert and Van Hooydonck, someone who’s been amazing this year riding in the service of Van Aert. I think they’ll try and control for as long as possible, knowing that the attacks will come in the last two or three laps, this is where Remco will be brought into the action. His job is to follow the attacks, but will he anchor them or start to work? This is the biggest worry for Wout fans, the real possibility that Remco gets off the front and works with others to chase the win, leaving Wout blocked in the following group. There was a big fall out after last year’s race, but given the form of Evenepoel, it would be foolish to make him simply work for Wout, he needs freedom to express himself and see how the race plays out.
We don’t have many sprinters in the race, they’ve all decided that the route is too hard for them. We still have fast finishers like Van Aert, Matthews, Kristoff, and Girmay but the start list is a bit thin on the ground in terms of quicks. This means teams don’t need to make the race hard to drop the pure sprinters, but those teams with climbers and puncheurs need to make it as tough as possible for Van Aert. We saw in Montréal that if he’s made to go very deep, it does have a big impact on his sprint. No doubt it will be France and Italy who try and make the race hard, Slovenia would love to, but with only five men to support Pogačar, they need to keep their powder dry until later in the race.
I expect the race to follow a traditional pattern, with the laps getting harder and harder before the race kicks off with three to go. The climbs will be used to drop the domestiques, but I think this is where the race becomes hard to control and opens the door for a surprise to happen. Will any of the big favourites go long and risk losing the race to win it? That’s easy to do in a smaller race but risking it all in the world championships requires huge balls. I think it could be a good race for those who are secondary riders, it is often the case that when the top riders mark each other out, the race can be won by someone not considered a top favourite.
Wout Van Aert – just like last year, he starts as the favourite, but will it work out better for him? I make no secret of my admiration for him, he’s a brilliant cyclist. He’s tinkered with his preparation this year, last year he was too good in the Tour of Britain and with a hard race in the legs he seemed to lose his edge in the road race. This year he’s looked to one-day races to get ready for Australia and he’s performed well in all four of them. He should have won in BEMER Cyclassics but looked the wrong way when Haller jumped. He followed that up by winning Plouay, despite doing a huge amount of work in the final 50km. Then it was over to Canada where his choice to trust his team to chase Cosnefroy down backfired on him in Québec and then he lost the sprint to Pogačar in Montréal. His defeats in Canada don’t worry me, it’s all about peaking on Sunday. Yes, he’s had difficulty in getting wins when in a small group, but each defeat is a learning process. I think he’s the worthy favourite but the presence of his old foe, van der Poel, makes this race even harder for him to win. These two are so good that most look at them to work, which can result in someone else taking the win. Will Wout put all his eggs in the sprint basket? I hope not, I want to see him attack and put everyone else under pressure.
Tadej Pogačar – this is a huge opportunity for him to win his first rainbow jersey. He was brilliant in Montréal, he won’t be worried if the race ends in a reduced sprint, even if Van Aert and van der Poel are in the mix too. His team isn’t the strongest, so they can’t make the whole race hard. Instead, I think we’ll see them ramping it up once we get over the 200km mark, this is where riders will start to explode. He’s obviously going to attack on Mount Pleasant, but as the climb is only 1km, it’s going to be very hard for him to go solo, but his sprint is very strong, so that shouldn’t be too much of a concern for him. Whatever happens, you know he’s going to put on a show.
Julian Alaphilippe – given his preparation for this race, winning it would be his biggest achievement in what is already an incredible career. I hate to say it but given the way he was riding in the Vuelta, I don’t think Alaphilippe will be in the mix for the win. Instead, the French should look towards Cosnefroy and Madouas.
Mathieu van der Poel – if he was anyone else, I would say he didn’t stand a chance considering his preparation for this race, but he’s MVDP! He won GP Wallonie despite not feeling great but winning here will take a herculean effort.
Remco Evenepoel – after going so deep in the Vuelta I don’t think he’ll win this race.
Biniam Girmay – I think it’s going to be too hard for him, but he’s got many more opportunities in the future.
Alberto Bettiol – he falls into the dark horse category, I’m thinking to how he won Flanders, a similar move could well strike gold here. His form is okay, but he needs to be brave and go long.
Michael Matthews – the home hero, he’d love to take the win. Australia has a decent team; they need to keep as many as they can for the final 30km. This is when the race will be decided, if Matthews is going to win, I think it needs to be in a sprint. Do they have the strength to chase down moves from the likes of Pogačar?
GB – Hayter for a sprint, Wright to attack from distance. After completing both the Tour and Vuelta, I’m not sure how much Fred will have left in the legs.
Denmark – a strong team, one with many possibilities. They won’t have to take on the burden of chasing, they can sit back and attack when the time is right. Skjelmose and Cort could go well, but my eyes are on Mikkel Honoré, I think he’s got an outside chance of taking home a medal.
Stefan Küng – so close in the TT, he’ll use that as motivation to try and win the road race. You might think the route is too hard for him, but he was 3rd back in 2019 and this year he’s been climbing better than ever. When you think back to the spring he was outstanding in the classics, finishing in the top 8 in E3, Dwars door Vlaanderen, Flanders, Amstel, and Roubaix. If he has those legs he can win this race, attacking from distance and letting all the big favourites look at each other.
Jan Tratnik – he’s probably going to have to ride for Pogačar, but you just never know. If a strong group gets clear in the final 50km, I can see him being in there. Being the second-best rider on a team can often lead to chances.
Dylan van Baarle – same as last year, with all eyes on van der Poel it presents a great chance for van Baarle to slip up the road and wait for the race to come to him. Long races always get the best out of him, this year he was 2nd in Flanders and won Roubaix, this race isn’t going to scare him.
I really want to say Wout, but something is telling me it’s not going to be his year. Instead, I think it’s going to be a win for Tadej Pogačar, he’ll be a hard man to stop if it’s a tough race.