The release of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour route has revealed a departure from the normal running of the race as the race ventures further into northern Victoria and the Alpine areas for a more mountainous 2017 edition.
It's little coincidence the race route will be more focused on climbs with the news that Grand Tour stars Froome and Chaves will be riding this year with organisers clearly hoping for an enthralling contest between the pair.
After the now traditional open stage city-centre prologue the course will be more challenging in 2017 with the Stage 1 finish at Falls Creek after starting in Wangaratta.
Riders will then go through Beechworth, Benalla and into Mitchelton Winery before completing four circuits of Kinglake in the finale on Sunday in what is a departure from the iconic ascent of Arthur’s Seat, which regularly saw fans line the road all the way up and a party atmosphere at the top.
Dave Sanders, head coach at the Victorian Institute of Sport, has had a lot to do with some of Australian cycling’s greatest talents and was enthusiastic about the 2017 route.
“I think it’s a great course,” Sanders said. “If you look at a stage like the day into Falls Creek (Stage 1), it’s lumpy all the way in and should encourage attacking racing. There’s dips, drops, false flats, hard sections... it’s a really good mix and it should be a sensational race.”
The 2016 race saw Chris Froome and teammate Peter Kennaugh attack and get a good gap into the Stage 1 finish, with much of the contest for general classification being over at that point. Organisers will want to keep the race alive for longer this time round and with a mountainous opening, there could be a chance of a repeat of last year’s early Sky dominance.
“I’d say it’s challenging without being brutal,” clarified Sanders. “There are plenty of climbs but none that are really going to let the likes of Chaves and Froome get too far away from the rest.”
Neil van der Ploeg (Avanti IsoWhey Sports) has ridden the last three editions of the race, notably managing a podium finish in the 2016 inner city prologue. His parents still live locally and the race will run on the roads and climbs he grew up on.
“You have Tawonga Gap on the Falls Creek stage, that’s quite a climb in itself,” van der Ploeg said, “then there’s the Falls Creek climb. For those that don’t know it, it is a funny one. It’s a bit undulating up to the 15 kilometre mark then the last 15 kilometres are more consistent, without being ridiculously steep.
“It’s not like one of the climbs that you’d see at the Giro d’Italia, it’s not that hard. Who knows, it might be a Froome-type climb or for maybe something like a larger group comes to the finish.”
The sheer length of the Falls Creek climb will make it one of the selective days of the Tour, as it is 29.8km long at an average of 3.9 per cent. If the winner isn’t decided at that point there will be a lot of aggressive racing on the final stage around Kinglake, where riders will tackle four circuits of the hilly region.
“Hopefully they can get the same atmosphere,” van der Ploeg said. “That was one thing that’s great about Arthur’s Seat, the atmosphere up there with the crowds lining the road is hard to beat. Hopefully Kinglake can match it… it’s certainly a beautiful location.”
One thing is a certainty. The arrival of the stars of the World Tour peloton, Chris Froome and Esteban Chaves, will be eagerly anticipated. It marks one of the few opportunities to see some of the best in the world in the flesh and the scenes in the Melbourne prologue this year were of a throng of phone camera-wielding fans that brought a ‘big event’ feel to proceedings. Sanders commented on the ‘star power’ effect of the big names.
“It’s great. With the big names you automatically get a lot of credibility and respect from the general public and the mainstream media. That means more fans, which creates more atmosphere and in the end you can’t be happier than that."
The 64th Edition of Australia's oldest stage race will be held around Victorica from Wednesday 1st to Sunday 5th February 2017.
Prologue - Wednesday 1st February – Melbourne Southbank – 2.1km
Stage 1 - Thursday 2nd February – Wangaratta to Falls Creek – 169.9km
Stage 2 - Friday 3rd February – Mt Beauty to Beechworth – 165.6km
Stage 3 - Saturday 4th February - Benalla to Mitchelton Winery - 165.6km
Stage 4 – Sunday 5th February – Kinglake – 120km (4 x 30km laps)