Credit: John Veage, Con Chronis, Cycling Australia
A race where champions are made, names are thrust forward for the consideration of major teams and more importantly, a ton of action and attacking takes place.
It’s a very well-known course for the riders and fans by now. 11.6km of the now famous Mt Buninyong course with the deviation through the Federation University campus. The climb of Mt Buninyong looms large at the start of each lap, with the 2.7km ascent more of a difficulty when tackled repeatedly over the running of the race. The Under 23 men will tackle the loop 12 times for 139.2 kilometres total.
The elongated loop with the detour through FedUni offers a bit more chance for the non-climbers to catch back on and recover, with the more technical nature of the roads playing into the hands of the all-rounders. It’s a course where we’ve seen the likes of Richie Porte and Caleb Ewan going into the race as equal favourites in the elites in the past, and one where any type of rider will have a chance if good enough.
Wind conditions affect the race, with the direction of the breeze on the climb often the deciding factor in whether it’s a race that favours the climbers or the ones with the ability to win from a small group sprint. There’s currently a tail-crosswind predicted for the Mt Buninyong ascent, so advantage climbers.
Arguably the best riders in the race come from the track program in Cameron Scott, Kell O’Brien, Lucas Plapp and former track rider Jarrad Drizners. The major teams know that if they let those riders get to a point in the race where they only need to produce one power climb and then a sprint, the result will be a foregone conclusion.
Therefore, a number of the big teams will have to make this race more about numbers in breakaways and endurance rather than explosive ability.
The likes of Bridgelane, Oliver’s Real Food Racing and potentially Inform TM Insight MAKE have plenty of incentive to make the race hard and put the track stars in a disadvantageous position.
The reigning National Road Series champion, Jarrad Drizners (Hagens Berman Axeon) shapes as the favourite for the race, with his improved climbing ability developed over the 2019 season sure to be useful. Word from South Australia is that he’s skipped part of the criterium season to focus more on climbing and that will come into play here.
He’s to fly solo without teammates, which means he’ll have one shot to fire if a dangerous move goes, but he has multiple ways of taking the victory, he’s able to attack and hold off the field or wait for the sprint.
Cameron Scott, the quietly spoken team pursuit star, could well have won the race last year, but he had a teammate up the road. Scott’s sprint to fourth gapped the field, showing that he had plenty left in the tank. He has an extra year of experience and growth since then.
The Wagga Wagga local will have no issue with the distance after top performances at Grafton to Inverell and the Tour of Qinghai Lake.
Kell O’Brien is similarly part of the world champion team pursuit team and comes into the race as one of the big names after coming close to the time trial victory with a second-placed finish. The St Kilda Cycling Club man has been in superb road form since his DNF in the road race last year, with a Tour of Great South Coast general classification win to his name but 12 times up Mt Buninyong might be a bit much to ask.
Inform TM Insight MAKE have brought their riders to the national championships in top shape, with Patrick Eddy and Lucas Plapp already taking national champions jerseys in the time trial. Carter Turnbull looks like their best card in the road race, with reports that he flew up the climb in the TT and he has the technical ability to make a gap stick on the descent.
It will be interesting to see how they utilise Lucas Plapp, with the newly-crowned TT champ a very strong rider who has some success in the National Road Series (NRS) in the past. Rudy Porter, Tom Benton and David Williams are all strong riders who have gained significant experience over the past few seasons of the NRS and while it would be a surprise to see them win, they could well have a significant effect upon the race.
It seems strange to put Team Bridgelane this far down the pecking order, but that is the reality of the stacked field that will contest the Under 23 race this year. Tyler Lindorff looks to be their main threat, with the Oceania road race champion coming off top form at the Tour of Tasmania where he finished third overall. His time trial performance was off his best and he’ll need to be at his best to win. The strongest climber in the field. Alastair Christie-Johnston and Matt Dinham shape as the other potential threats for Bridgelane.
Oliver’s Real Food Racing bring a strong contingent headlined by Tour of Bright winner Riley Fleming, with L’etape winner Campbell Jones also a worthy candidate. You would think that they’d both need to get away from their faster rivals to win, but they have quite a few numbers within the team to ensure that it is a harder race.
Dylan Hopkins comes into his first year as a Under 23 with a spot already in the bag on Ljubljana Gusto Santic. The Canberran hasn’t lit the world on fire in terms of results yet, but he’ll be one to watch in this race as he’s been steadily progressing during his time in the NRS.
Other names to watch include Dylan McKenna (Nero Continental), Taj Jones (Pro Racing Sunshine Coast), Carter Bettles (St George Continental), Zach Johnson (Trinity Racing Team) and Connor Sens (X-Speed). They’re all riders with plenty of potential, but not enough runs on the board to say with confidence that they’ll be there for sure. However, it is the Under 23 road race, so a surprising amount of development is almost to be expected!
The race always offers interesting viewing and it’s worth making the trip a day early if you’re coming to watch the elite races on the Sunday. The race begins at 1:35pm AEST on Saturday, January 11.
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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger