Defending champion in the women’s event, Brodie Chapman made her name at last year’s edition, securing a professional contract with TIBCO-SVB after her superb solo ride to hold off a charging Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) over a tough course. The enthusiastic Chapman talked about her joy at returning to the race.
“It’s really special,” Chapman said. “It’s kinda cool to come back as the defending champion. I really want to see this race grow and grow in prestige over the years, perhaps a few more stages.”
Chapman fell ill before the Women's Santos Tour Down Under and had to withdraw and watch from the roadside, but she showed that she still in some good form, winning the Gravel and Tar classic in New Zealand, before backing up the performance with a strong return at the women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, where she finished sixth. Both races proved doubly useful as scouting opportunities on her major rivals.
“I’m definitely looking at Mitchelton-Scott,” Chapman said. "They obviously come in with very strong climbers and in-form Australians.
“Also Jenna Merrick from Mike Greer Homes, she was the one who was with me at Gravel and Tar, she’s showed that she’s got incredible climbing form and can handle herself on the gravel and out there in the wind. As much as she might appear a dark horse to others, I know who strong she can be.”
Chapman’s recent gravel experience will come into play in the finale of the second stage, as riders attempt a three-kilometre climb with a 1.8km gravel section and gradients of up to 15 per cent, summiting with 11 km remaining in the race.
“The Churchill climb on Stage 2 has some gravel on the top and it does ramp up to some pretty steep percentages,” Chapman said. “I anticipate that the race will already have been made really hard by the time we get to that climb.
“Before the climb there are a lot of rolling hard roads. I’m unsure of the wind yet, but that could always play a factor.”
Chapman and her TIBCO-SVB teammates reconnoitred the course, with particular attention to the gravel climb that could well decide the race. She will be better suited than many over the course, with the former mountain biker more at home on shifting surfaces than most road riders.
“Definitely. I do feel pretty confident on the gravel on my road bike as I do seek it out occasionally,” she said. “But yeah, once you’re tired and have other riders around, you have to back it off slightly, there’s no point hooking it way too fast because you’ll come down and be worse off.”
The men’s race is longer at five stages, with most expecting the four ascents of Arthur’s Seat – the final culminating in a summit finish – to be the stage that decides the battle for overall honours.
For Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), an absence from the race since 2011 hasn’t diminished the event in the pantheon of races that the Tasmanian is looking to win.
“I’m looking forward it,” Porte said. “For the older Aussie guys, the Sun Tour is the one. Jayco Herald Sun Tour, [Graham] McVilly, [John] Trevorrow, the older riders that have won the race, it’s got that history as an Australian race.”
The pressure isn’t weighing in Porte, with the Santos Tour Down Under queen stage winner looking to encourage others in his team to take their own opportunities in the race.
“There’s no stress from the team, there’s no pressure,” Porte said. “It’s a nice race if we can win stages, not just with me but other guys like Will Clarke, who deserves chances.”
The early stages promise some opportunities for the sprinters and the attackers, with Porte recognising the potential danger of the gravel climb, but identifying Arthur’s Seat as the likely setting for the deciding battle for the general classification.
“I mean tomorrow, the Moto GP circuit could be interesting if the wind is like this,” Porte said, referencing the wind blowing at the photo shoot for the race. “I think Thursday (Stage 2) looks pretty solid as well, it’s a good climb in the final. We haven’t looked at it, it will be a nice surprise.
“I think the Arthur’s Seat stage is obviously going to be the crucial one. I’ve done Arthur’s Seat before and it’s not a bad climb. It will be interesting to see how the Aussie guys are, obviously, it’s a big motivator as the biggest race of the season, so we’ll see how it plays out.”
“If it’s all together on Saturday then sure, we’ll try and do something, but that’s everyone’s plan I guess. They’ve cut it from five times up (Arthur’s Seat) to four, so it’s a bit of a shame but I think we’re going to have a good race regardless.”
With the ascents of Arthur’s Seat likely to be decisive, Porte talked about a few of the names that he expects to be competing with on Saturday.
“I think [Michael] Woods was good there at the Tour Down Under,” said Porte, “but for me, Kenny Elissonde was great at Tour Down Under, also Cadel’s Race – he’s a punchy little climber who will do well here. Dylan van Baarle is also in good form, he was quite impressive at Cadel’s race and Sky have a good team.
“It will be interesting and exciting to see how good the Aussie riders are. It’s a great level of talent here and it’s nice to come back and race here. It’s where my roots are really, racing these kinds of races. I’m looking forward to seeing these new guys.
“There’s a young guy from Tassie called Zach Johnson (not racing the Jayco Herald Sun Tour) that I’ve been training with and he’s climbing super well. Hopefully, guys like that can show their hand and have a good race also.”
Stage 1 gets the action underway from Phillip Island, with daily highlights on the Cycling Central website. Stage 5 will be live streamed on Cycling Central and broadcast on SBS Viceland from 1.30pm AEDT.