There are always a few rumours floating around about riders not present on the start line as well, with the gossip and speculation reaching fever pitch before a pedal is turned in anger.
Amanda Spratt (Orica-Scott)
The first comment uttered on a rider’s shape at the first stage along Ritchie Boulevade was by Pat Shaw, new to the commentary scene and not sugarcoating his words. ‘Wow, Spratty looks fit.’
She backed up the look by powering clear on the hilly Portarlington course and almost lapping the field en route to an emphatic win.
“I’m happy going into nationals,” said Spratt. “I’ve been training for about a month longer than normal and I feel that the training has been going well but you never really know until you get to a race. If anything I’m more relaxed going into in (than last year).
"A lot of people think that it goes the other thing and that there’s going to be more pressure as the defending champion and one of the favourites but it’s kind of the opposite. I kinda think that ‘I’ve won it twice before and if I can win it again I’ll be happy with that. I’ve definitely going to go there to win it and I know I’ve got the form to do it.”
Jenelle Crooks (Orica-Scott)
A key lieutenant for Spratt will be last years under 23 champion Jenelle Crooks, who has impressed in the step up to World Tour level. She was second on the Portarlington stage and perhaps more impressively often did the lion’s share of the work for Orica-Scott on the front of the peloton, either covering moves or driving the pace. She backed that up in the nationals criterium and it could have easily been her as Allen that won the event, as she and Allen were taking it in turns to attack the breakaway they were in.
Shannon Malseed (Holden Women's Cycling)
The 22-year-old will unluckily miss out on eligibility for the Under 23 race with her birthday just falling the wrong side of January 1st. Nonetheless, the aggressive Oceania champ can’t be counted out as a dark horse for the road race and the Criterium after strong performances at the Bay Crits and national criterium. The look of her as well is impressive, skinny and fast is a good combination going into the road race.
“It’s nice to see the hard work I’ve been doing has resulted in some good legs here,” Malseed said, “and hopefully I can also do well at nationals. It’s going to be tough, up against Orica-Scott and the numbers they have. But we’re confident in our team, we have an up and coming rider in Grace Brown who should climb well on the course and we’re looking for a good result.”
Kate Perry (Specialized Womens Racing)/Lucy Kennedy (High5 Dreamteam)/Lisen Hockings (Holden Women's Cycling)
There are a few local riders who may slip under the radar with the attention focused on the big names. Kate Perry was fourth in the time trial last year, improving to third this time around. If she is given too much leeway in a breakaway during the road race she has shown she has the ability to surprise.
Lucy Kennedy will be a darkhorse for the road race. At the NRS level, she has consistently been the rider that comes to the fore on the punchy climbs and she will be suited to the multiple ascents of Bunniyong. Coming off a good win at the Tour of Bright, where she outclimbed, amongst others, Annemiek van Vleuten. Tall and rangy on the bike, Kennedy will be hard to miss up the front of the peloton on the climbs and she’ll be the one of the best on Sunday.
National Road Series champion Lisen Hockings (Holden) unfortunately won’t be contesting nationals after a nasty fall in the final lap at the Shimano SuperCrit in December saw her fracture her C2 vertebrae and put an end to her nationals campaign. A nasty turn of events for the 37 year old who would have gone in as a rider to watch in the time trial and road race.
Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott)
Things didn’t go the way of Ewan early at the Bay Crits for perhaps the first time in his career, he crashed in the opening stage and then an attack in the second stage was more to aid his teammates than himself but he rebounded in the third stage and the national Criterium championships. He’ll be hoping that it is a headwind up the Mt Bunniyong climb that will slow down the climbers for Sunday’s road race.
“Today, winning the sprint, it feels like I have all bases covered going into nationals. Obviously, the crash was a bit unfortunate, but apart from that, it’s all been positive. I’m hoping for good conditions on Sunday (the road race), I’m feeling good, the form’s good so hopefully I can have a crack.”
Nathan Haas (Dimension Data)
Looking trim, Haas was active during the Bay Crits, either staying out of trouble at the back of the field or trying his luck with attacks off the front of the peloton. The Bunniyong course suits Haas almost perfectly and he’ll have more teammates than usual at his disposal, with Ben O’Connor and Lachlan Morton both top climbers in their own right.
“Health is one thing I have on my side at the moment, I’ve done some good work but nationals is a tough one. There are teams with more riders than ours, sometimes the race just rides away from you in a breakaway and there’s nothing that you can do.”
Robbie Hucker/Cam Bayly (both Isowhey Sports-Swiss Wellness)
The pair from the former Avanti setup were both aggressive during the Bay Crits and look to be carrying some handy form into nationals both are superb climbers and will be looking to emulate the performance of teammate Pat Lane last year, who climbed his way to third in the road race.
“It’s been a really different build this year,” said Cameron Bayly. “It was a long season without a break, from racing in China which finished in December, I’ve just been trying to maintain my form and see how I go. It’s a very different approach and I just hope it works out for me. At the end of the day I’m in a good mental state, I love racing my bike and I’ll give it the best I can come the nationals road race.”
Nathan Earle (Team Ukyo)
Nathan Earle was pretty vocal in the press conference after taking out the intermediate sprint prize at the national criterium championships. When asked what he was capable of in the road race, Earle was adamant.
“Winning. I believe that without being cocky, I’m in better form than when I was with Sky and helping Richie (Porte). I’m a one-man show, that’s not such a bad thing in Bunniyong, on that sort of circuit. It’s a natural selection sort of course, a hard man’s course and as long as tactics don’t play into it too much I should be there.”
There was a lot of talk that Meyer had lost his passion for cycling as he walked away from Dimension Data midway through the 2016 season but after a winning return to the track at six-day events, it’s rumoured that Meyer is ready to light up the Bunniyong course as he did last year in his superb ride to second. A lot will have to go in Meyer’s favour, he is racing as an individual, so the race will have to be selective and without a dominant breakaway. In addition, he’ll have no teammates, so he can’t have much in the way of bad luck and he can’t afford to miss a move. Nonetheless, he appears to be strong enough to have a lot of gossip about him roadside at the Bay Crits.
The National Road Races will be broadcast on SBS HD from Buninyong at 1pm on Sunday.