While Australia might not boast the out-out-out favourites coming into the men's road race at the world championships in Flanders, the riders are optimistic about challenging for the win if they can manage what is expected to be a tough, tricky race.
Michael Matthews has the most impressive palmares of the squad in recent world championships, finishing second in 2015, fourth in 2016, third in 2017 and seventh in 2020.
“It should suit my characteristics, but at the same time you can say that about a lot of guys," said Matthews in an interview with SBS Cycling Central. "I just hope we have the team to support myself and the other leaders to make sure we can get the best result on the day. They’re short, punchy climbs, about a minute each, so that suits me quite well.
“It’s much more difficult than people are expecting, not necessarily the climbs themselves, but the course in general. So many corners, up and down, the longest straight is about 300 metres long."
Those characteristics have led to a very open tactical approach from the Australian team, with the expected free-for-all battle between the other nations one that they hope to profit from.
“On a course like this, I don’t think you can play just one card," said Matthews. "Other nations have done the same thing, they have three or four leaders that they can fire up the road and make the race."
To that end, everyone has a job, and while that information wasn't available pre-race, Nathan Haas laid out what the general plan was, as well as his role over the 268.3-kilometre course.
“I think we have a very strong team. Obviously, Matthews is the strongest candidate to be there at the finish," said Haas. "We have some clear delineation for the guys that have to do the work early, some clear delineation with the guys who have to do the work in the middle, and some guys for the final."
"I’m expecting we have a good race, there’s a one in thirty chance that your nation manages to win, and then even breaking that down some nations have lots of guys who can win. So, looking at it that way, your odds are very low, but I think we can turn those odds to our favour. We have a few things up our sleeve.
“If I finish the race, I’ve probably done my job badly. The war’s going to be in that first 200 or 150 kilometres. You have to have somebody who’s willing to be in the wind and pulling your team into position.
"The moment you’re out of position is when problems can happen. Teams that don’t have somebody willing to do that are going to fall into the trap of rolling the dice."
Apart from Matthews and Haas, the Australian team comprises Nick Schultz, Miles Scotson, Harry Sweeny, Robert Stannard and Luke Durbridge, with Caleb Ewan considered an outside chance for the victory if the race plays out right.
“I guess an easy race would suit me better, but we have good options in the team whether it’s a hard race or an easy race," said Ewan. "If it’s an easy race, that’s better for me, but if it’s harder then that’s better for Michael and I think we have two good options there.”
Ewan has had less of a chance to display recent form, with his broken collarbone during the Tour de France and subsequent recovery meaning that he's only had limited racing coming into the event. His showing over the final climb of the Poggio at Milan-San Remo has many wondering if he can produce something similar here.
“If I’m there with a group of 30-40 guys, then I can do well in a sprint," said Ewan. To be honest, I don’t know what the ideal scenario is for me.
“It’s a race that’s going to be really hard to predict what’s going to happen. Where the moves are going to start, when the attacks will start. Will it be hard all day, or easy for half the day, then hard at the end… it’s really going to be really hard to plan and predict what’s going to happen.”
Watch the Elite Men's Road Race from the 2021 UCI Road World Championships on SBS OnDemand from 1815 AEST, with the broadcast on SBS VICELAND from 2130 AEST.