Stage 1 uses the same Healesville course from the 2016 men’s Herald Sun Tour which saw the (then) Team Sky pair of Peter Kennaugh and Chris Froome tear up the field on the final climb and put a big gap into the field.
The early stages are winding and undulating on some tight roads around the Victorian countryside. There’s a climb 63 kilometres in, but it is unlikely to be a spring board for any successful attacks with quite a flat and open run back into Healesville. The riders then take on the big test of the day the climb up through the forest before the final, technical descent and a short flat section to the finish line.
Froome and Kennaugh showed that the stage can be one for climbers, but there was a group of thirty only 17 seconds back on the finish line.
Miserable conditions are forecast, but the scene is set for some hot action. Michelton-Scott go into the race – as they often do in Australia – holding the strongest cards. World time-trial champion Annemiek van Vleuten headlines the squad, that is if she’s recovered from essentially blowing herself up trying to stay at the front for the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
Lucy Kennedy subs in for Amanda Spratt as the climber, she’d prefer the final climb harder, but she’ll be impossible to drop. Gracie Elvin will likely be held back in case it comes back to a sprint, she’s showed a number of times already how effective she can be in the dash to the line after a hard race.
The team will be motivated as a whole after failing for the first time ever to take the win at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
There are a number of teams lining up who would nothing more than to knock the Aussie team off their pedestal. At the forefront of this are the other Australians, formed into the KordaMentha national team. Katrin Garfoot is a perennial danger, everyone in the rest of the peloton is wary of what the German-born Queenslander can do and they’ll plan around her.
That may let the likes of Rachel Neylan and Brodie Chapman get a bit more freedom, Chapman in particular has been having a storming summer and wouldn’t look out of place adding a win to her performances this year.
Shannon Malseed (TIBCO-SVB) is another Aussie that can’t be discounted on this kind of course. Her leadout of teammate Allison Jackson went horribly at Cadels, leading to the Canadian going down at high speed, but the combative Malseed is well positioned to bounce back on a course that suits her nicely.
The Specialized Womens Racing team have a strong squad, with climbers like Kate McIlroy, Kate Perry and Taryn Heather who are all in good form and capable of shaking it up on the final climb. They’ll need to win solo though, they’re unlikely to out-sprint many of their rivals from even a small bunch.
International teams like Wiggle High5, Cylance, Trek-Drops and Ale-Cipollini have been out in Australia since the Womens Tour Down Under and may now be working their way into some good form.
The winner will hold a big advantage going into the final stage along Southbank in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD. A 1.6 kilometre dash through along the banks of the Yarra, the course has been modified from previous years. It no longer crosses the Yarra and now starts and finishes on the South side. That gets rid of some of the technical aspects of the course, and makes it more about power than ever.
Annette Edmondson (Wiggle High5) will go in as the big favourite. Her sprinting prowess and pursuiting background stands her in very good stead to get a result, even up against the world champion, Annemiek van Vleuten.
The men enter the 65th edition of the race, with more history set to be created out on the roads of regional Victoria.
The opening prologue is on the same course as the women’s event. There are unlikely to be time gaps beyond twenty seconds or so. The general classification riders are often only separated by a handful of seconds after the stage.
Stage 1 from Colac to Warrnambool isn't quite the same as the grand old classic, the Melbourne to Warrnambool. There’s going to be a lot more of the Great Ocean Road included in the course and all the beauty that section of the coast brings.
The main difficulty of the stage will be the wind, it may look like one for the sprinters, but anyone that pays attention to the Melbourne to Warrnambool will know that it’s just as likely that a solo rider or small group can take it out.
The second stage is from Warrnambool to Ballarat and will take part of the nationals course in the back end of the stage, with the second half of the Mt Buninyong climb and a quick run into the main street of Buninyong from there. Will be very familiar to those Australians within the field but it’s unlikely to see too many of the sprinters and their teammates left behind.
Stage 3 will be all about the final 21 kilometre climb of Lake Mountain. The average gradient is a bit over four per cent, with the hardest section coming right at the start. The opening four and a half kilometres of riding are the hardest of the climb, so there’s likely to be action right from the foot of the ascent.
Team tactics will then come into play on the drag up to the finish line, with team numbers likely to play a big role in who emerges the victor. Will likely be the decisive stage for the overall win.
There’s an extra lap for the final stage around Kinglake, the same course they used last year but the extra lap could see the repetition of the climb fatigue enough riders to allow the mountain goats to run away with it. There’s some tough sections within the climb, though even some spirited attacking by Froome last year wasn’t enough to dislodge Howson. The race will need to be made quite tough early if any team wants to make a move on the general classification.
Michelton-Scott will want to make a big impression in their home race. They’ll heading out of the Gerry Ryan owned Michelton winery on the third stage and this is where they should be expected to excel. They’ve got a plethora of strong climbers on the roster, Esteban Chaves, defending champ Damien Howson, Robert Power, Lucas Hamilton and Cameron Meyer. Any of them could win the race and it’s likely they’ll aim to proactively use those numbers to their advantage.
The other World Tour squad, Trek-Segafredo, bring more of an all-round squad to the race. Ruben Guerreiro is the best climber within the squad, but the have a number of strong rouleur types who will be more than capable of splitting the race up out on the flat and in the wind. Koen de Kort got a good idea of what to expect in the Warrnambool stage when he came out for the Melbourne to Warrnambool last year.
Bennelong-SwissWellness are the premier domestic squad and they’ve brought a line-up that will look to create some havoc in the race. Young climbers Dylan Sunderland and Chris Harper are backed by the experience of Joe Cooper and they’ve have some very handy attackers in Sam Crome and Cameron Bayly. Then there’s Steele von Hoff, who’s been beating down the door all summer and is ready to take a big win.
Former winner Calvin Watson (Aqua Blue Sport) may be a smokie here and a rider like Nathan Earle (Israeli Pro Cycling) definitely has the quality to win here, but both will find it hard against the numbers of other teams in the race.
The National Road Series teams that took the step up to Continental Status this year largely did it with this race in mind. It’s the biggest stage for them as a team on TV and they really want to make it count by getting off the front of the race.
Drapac EF are a World Tour feeder team, and they’ve got a number of riders who would like to prove themselves the equal of their World Tour counterparts. Cyrus Monk is very talented and will definitely be on the attack at some stage of the race.
Jesse Featonby has a close connection with the race and stands a good chance of making his mark in a race that his father, Greg, famously competed in. Theo Yates is building an impressive palmares with overseas UCI wins and he’ll be the designated sprinter.
Australian Cycling Academy will go in for a mix of breakaways and trying to keep youngsters Toby Orchard up there for the sprints and Michael Potter for the climbs.
Oliver’s Real Food Racing got off to a great start to the season, taking and holding the leader’s jersey at the New Zealand Cycle Classic until the queen stage. They’ve got a sprinter in Sean Whitfield, but they’ll be hunting breaks with a rider like Ryan Christensen a good shot for the king of the mountains jersey. They're also one of the best teams to follow on twitter for race updates.
Mobius Bridgelane are a team chock full of young potential who will be keen to see how they measure up to a higher standard. Alex Evans is probably their best shot at the general classification after a very nice showing at the Tour of Tasmania, while a rider like Alistair Donohoe wouldn’t be a longshot to take a stage result. THey took recent success at the brutal Gravel and Tar 1.2 UCI race in New Zealand with Ethan Berends and will look to continue that form here.
Brisbane Continental Cycling Team have come a long way in a relatively short time, but they look ready for the big stage. Ryan Thomas is likely to be their main card to play here, but riders like Michael Vink and Tom Robinson will be keen to attack on selected stages.
Team McDonalds Down Under was an eleventh hour announcement into the Continental ranks, which left them searching for riders a bit late on. They’ve managed to get some decent riders on the roster, Alex Ray is probably their best rider. He’s got experience across Asia and the United States, where he wasn’t out of place in a good standard of racing.
It’ll be hard for anyone to take on the might of Michelton-Scott on Lake Mountain, but there’s plenty of varied terrain where other teams will be very keen to attack and force the issue. Even if they are not fighting for the top of the podium, the local teams will be very active in attacking and animating the racing.