Geelong > Geelong 174.5km
After a two year break due to COVID, we’re back in Geelong for the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, that’s right, the longest name on the cycling calendar! It’s the same route as in previous years, but this time the big loop is done anti-clockwise, which is the reserve compared to previous years. The main part of the race is still the lap circuit which features the wall climb, Challambra Crescent.
European weather! Heavy cloud and 20 degrees. It should stay dry and there’s not much wind.
Welcome back to Challambra Crescent. The worst it is 900m at 9%.
The last climb before the finish but it’s not long enough to cause gaps.
When do teams want to light things up? If you leave it until the final lap, there’s every chance some of the fast men make the cut. Last time we were here, the race exploded the penultimate time up the climb, this made it too difficult for the sprinters to compete for the win.
Now, as the years go on, sprinters continue to become better and better at climbing, the days of being a flat track bully are no more. As we only have four ascents of the climb, a lot of the fast men will fancy their chances of being around for the finish, but it all depends on how fast they do the first two ascents. If you want to hurt the sprinters, every ascent needs to be done at pace.
The Tour Down Under showed who’s in form, but some who didn’t win a stage in that race will now reap the benefit of that race in the legs, and another week of training in the sun. This race has only been won by an Australian on one occasion, the rest of the time it’s gone to the Europeans, this is not the Tour Down Under! This race needs to be thought about just like any on the calendar, home advantage is not a thing.
Jayco, Ineos and UAE will expect to be the strongest teams in the race. Matthews and Yates headline the Jayco team, both are excellent options for a race like this, and having multiple riders in the front group always gives an advantage. Ineos had a disappointing TDU, they’ll be expecting to bounce back, and Ethan Hayter must be looking forward to this one, as will Plapp and Sheffield. UAE had a brilliant TDU, with Jay Vine in flying form they’ll be hoping to be up there, especially as Marc Hirschi should provide them with a good second option.
All these teams will want a hard race, it’s important to put the sprinters like Ewan into difficulty. A hard race means a relatively small group after the final climb, then the fun starts. Get two in the front group and you should win the race, it’s all about numbers. Jayco must start as the favourites, they’ll be very keen on winning another race on home soil.
Michael Matthews – it wasn’t a great TDU for him. He suffered bad luck in the Victor Harbor stage, but he would have been disappointed not to win the Willunga Township stage. This race looks like a perfect fit for him if they can drop Caleb Ewan. If we get a sprint from a group of 10-20, he should be winning.
Simon Yates – took an excellent win on Mount Lofty, so he’ll approach this one full of confidence. The team will have to carefully think about their tactics for this race but having two options is much better than one.
Ethan Hayter – he was talked up before the TDU as a rider who was going for the win, but he was anonymous throughout the whole race. Hayter is a very difficult rider to predict, I find it almost impossible to work out when he’s on form. The issue is, when he’s good, he’s brilliant, that’s why everyone is keen to know when he’s on form! He’s got every chance of turning up and winning this race, either that or he’ll be 50th.
Magnus Sheffield – 4th in the TDU, but he was way off the level required to win. Challambra Crescent is a climb that should suit him, he performed well in Vejle last year. I would be amazed if he didn’t make the front split towards the end of the race, and he’s the type of rider who could go solo to the finish.
Jay Vine – he had a brilliant TDU, and he’d love to back it up with another fine display in this race. He’s not got the characteristics typically need to win a race like this, but you’ve got to make hay when you have good legs.
Marc Hirschi – he could be UAE’s best option. He was impressive in the TDU riding as the last support rider for Vine, and the route is perfect for him. Hirschi is starting to look capable of getting back to his 2020 level, where he was the best rider in the world for about six weeks. He ended 2022 with a couple of wins, and has started this season well, would you believe it if I told you, it was contract year?
Caleb Ewan – still riding for UniSA, so that means no support, which means no win.
Mauro Schmid – QuickStep like this race, they’ve won it three out of six times, including the last two editions. They normally have a sprint option, but not this year, which will make it harder to win. Devenyns is the defending champion, but I think Schmid will be the best option for the team.
Max Schachmann – an excellent looking race for the German. With the TDU in the legs, he should be ready to challenge for the win. 2022 didn’t go according to plan, an early win in 2023 would be just what the doctor ordered.
Alberto Bettiol – performed better than I expected in the TDU, I have high hopes for him in this race. The steep slopes of Challambra Crescent shouldn’t give him any problems, and he packs a fast sprint. If EF also get Honoré in the front group, they’ll have a big chance of taking the win.
Sven Bystrøm – possibly the surprise of the TDU. 7th on GC and two 5th place stage finishes was an excellent way for the Norwegian to start the season. He should be good for another top 10 finish here.
With all eyes on Michael Matthews, it will be Simon Yates who nips off the front and takes the win.
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