Kinglake is one of the more popular areas for local cyclists to test themselves over the weekend and the peloton will certainly see themselves put to the test over the 121 kilometres of racing today. Four circuits of the course will be negotiated and four times the climb from Myrtleford to Stanley road has the potential to split the field to pieces.
The climb itself is far from the toughest overall gradient, a mere five per cent over the nine kilometre length of the ascent but it contains a tough three kilometre section where the average is close to nine per cent.
That part of the climb will give the mountain goats an opportunity to leave the rest of the field behind although the rest of the course is rolling and looks suited to more powerful riders.
This interesting parcours offers up a hard day if the peloton attacks from the outset. With the stage only 121 kilometres in length, expect that action early in the piece.
What’s the overall picture?
Damien Howson currently leads the race by 38 seconds after his solo stage win on Falls Creek and a tremendous fightback on Stage 2 when he punctured just as the race was about to explode. Howson still has plenty of work to do to retain his leader’s jersey.
“As soon as I crossed the finish line on Falls Creek, Kinglake was the one stage I knew was going to be the biggest challenge and I was aware of that. Obviously yesterday threw a bigger curveball than I thought but I’m fully aware of what’s coming up.”
Orica-Scott will have their hands full with Team Sky and the KordaMentha Real Estate national team who have both promised fireworks in a last ditch attempt to get themselves into yellow. Jai Hindley (KordaMentha) remains the closest to Howson on the general classification but he also has four teammates in the top ten overall including Cameron Meyer (+1.08).
They have a lot of cards to play and it would be a surprise if they weren’t aggressive from very early in the stage. Hindley also holds the white jersey as the best young rider, but wants a shot at yellow.
“We going to ride really aggressive,” said Hindley, “we’ve got five guys in the top ten. The plan is to put it all on the line and get the yellow and keep the white as well. We just need to work with our numbers, we’ve got a good chance and everyone is riding really well and looking strong at the moment.”
“It’s been a big block of racing this summer. The Tour Down Under was pretty cool, I gained a lot of experience and now I’m just having a really good time.”
Last year's winner, Chris Froome has team mate Kenny Elissonde in third with a 53 second deficit, himself lying in sixth (+1.12).
But the final stage won’t be all about the general classification with all the other jerseys still in the balance. The blue polka dot mountains jersey is currently in the possession of Ben Hill (Attaque Team Gusto), who sits on 28 points but with a maximum of 80 points up for grabs in the final stage his current lead won’t mean much if he can’t add to his tally.
“Basically I have to get in the break,” said Hill, “that’s the first step, then win the KOMs. I’ll assess who else is in the break but if I don’t get in the break the race is over. The first KOM comes after 24 kilometres and it’s mostly downhill until it goes up the climb. So it’s either going to be some luck picking the right move on the downhill or strength on the uphill to get in the break. It’s going to be a bit different to how I usually like it but I’ll give it my best shot.”
Probably the safest of the classifications is the sprint jersey, which has Jake Kauffmann (NSWIS) sitting in a commanding position going into the final stage. He’s on 24 points, well ahead of Luke Rowe in second on 14 points. Someone would have to take points out on the road and then win the stage as well, whilst Kauffmann took no points of his own.
The builder and former rugby player is an imposing figure on the bike, so much so his teammates have taken to calling him “Hulk”. He won’t be the best suited to the climbing terrain of the final stage but his current lead should be enough to see him clinch the sprinter’s classification.
There is still plenty left to fight for in what should a fitting finish to an already dramatic Herald Sun Tour. With so much in the race left to be decided expect plenty of action as riders desperately try to end the Tour on the top step of the podium.