It?s shaping to be a particularly exciting edition of the Under 23?s Men’s Road Race, with a lot of likely riders who are all live chances to take the win in Buninyong. They will be riding the 10.2 kilometre course 13 times for a total of 132.6 kilometres, including the 13 ascents of Mt Buninyong (5%, 2.9 kms). It varies a fair bit in gradient, but contains very little respite, with only a short downhill after the left-hand turn onto Mt Buninyong road. The climb begins only a few hundred metres from the start/finish line, with the gradient easiest at the start, before the toughest section comes on the final kick up to the KOM point. There is an undulating part for a few kilometres following the climb, which is arguably what makes the course so hard, as dropped riders don?t get an immediate descent to quickly make up the gap to the safety of the main bunch and instead have to slog it out in a hard chase to get back in touch. The descent begins properly once the riders turn onto Fiskins Rd, but it isn?t overly technical and is rarely a decisive point of the race. The final run down Geelong Road into Buninyong is the fastest point of the course, and sets the stage for the flat, fast finish. History has showed that the majority of winners come from small groups sprinting for the win, but a particularly strong rider can stay away solo, and a reduced bunch sprint isn?t out of the question either.
Defending champion Miles Scotson (SASI) failed to defend his title in the time trial, though he was far from unhappy at coming 2nd to his brother. He may not defend his title in the road race either, as he is planning to compete in the Track World Cup, and he may have to do specific training for the boards instead. After the time trials he was still undecided. ?There?s a chance that I?ll train for the track World Cup event now because it?s next week, Tim (Decker) said to me, if I defend my time trial title I can try to defend the road race as well, but if I don?t, it might be a team pursuit session. But, you know, I think me and Callum (SASI) have to go and get this road race now. I?m motivated, I?ve got the form, I?ll back myself, whether it?s a ride like last year to get away or a sprint. I think I?ve got the speed at the moment to win from a reduced group, so I?ve got some cards to play. If I could defend the road race title, I?d be absolutely ecstatic.? To win as the marked man of the field would be quite a feat, but for those that have seen him ride recently, particularly on Stage 3 of the Bay Crits, where he held off the peloton for half the race in a lone move, they will testify that he is in some frightening form at the moment. He?ll have his brother Callum next to him on the start line, and the younger Scotson has proved that he is at least as big a powerhouse as his brother. Maybe in question is his race experience and savvy in the bunch, as he has a lot of development to go, but if he gets in a situation where he can just put the power down, he?ll be very hard to catch. If they both race, they will both be marked men, and you would expect the other teams to race with a strategy to neutralise them, which may frustrate the dream of a double Scotson triumph.
Lucas Hamilton (Jayco/John West/VIS) is one of the stars of the NRS and would have been bitterly disappointed with his 17th in the time trial on Thursday. He went for a training ride after the unexpectedly poor showing, so it couldn?t be confirmed whether it was a case of bad legs or a mechanical mishap, but clearly he was set on getting his mind right back to his main goal of winning the U/23 road race. Without a doubt the most talented climber in this race on his best form, the question is whether he can resummon the form that saw him win the queen stage at the National Capital Tour and terrorise the peloton at the Tour of Tasmania. He?ll wait for the last lap for an explosive attack up Mt Bunninyong, and if the race is still within grasp he?ll be hard to beat. Angus Lyons and Alex Morgan (4th in the TT) are both very good riders in their own right, and will take up the mantle if Hamilton is on a bad day.
After their dominant showing at the U/23 criteriums, State of Matter/MAAP will have a big target on their backs for the road race, as they probably should with the likes of track star Dan Fitter, last year?s 4th place finisher Ryan Kavanagh, U/23 Criterium champion Jesse Kerrison and Tour of Tasmania stage winner Dylan Sunderland. Sunderland has been a bit sick in the lead-up, so how he reacts to the gruelling circuit is anyone?s guess. Daniel Fitter is a super-strong athlete, and a canny bike rider to boot. The wins have just eluded him so far this season, and he?ll be very motivated to climb to the top step of the podium. Fitter will probably be considered the joint leader of the team with Kavanagh, who showed last season that he?s very good on this course and he wouldn?t need to improve to take the win this time around. Kerrison has more of a reputation as a sprinter, but he can get over the climbs as well. He looked superb in the criteriums and will be one to watch from a reduced bunch sprint. State of Matter/MAAP will probably look to keep things fairly controlled early, so they can make use of their numbers later in the race. If none of their attacks stick late on, then they?ll try and bring it back for Kerrison to try and take the win in the sprint. Expect Nick Katsonis to be a key workhorse for the team.
Avanti IsoWhey Sports may not have the numbers of some of the others, but they more than make up for it in quality, as any of their three, Chris Hamilton, Ben O?Connor or Oscar Stevenson could feasibly take out the title and none of them can be given any leeway by the other contenders. Stevenson isn?t in the best form at the moment, and will most likely riding in the service of the others, whether that means representing in the early moves, or riding on the front to shut down dangerous attacks. With so few cards to play Avanti will have to carefully pick and choose the moments to use their energy. Out of the three Avanti IsoWhey Sports riders, Ben O?Connor currently looks the most likely to take the win. He is a superb climber and his improvement in the time trial in recent months has shown that he?s taken another step in maintaining his power for long efforts, which may be required if he wants to win, as he isn?t the quickest in a sprint.
Jason Lowndes (Drapac) is one who a number of eyes are on for this race, after his good results in Canada led him to be picked up by Drapac for 2016. His best result came in the GP de Saguenay, where he was placing in and around a number of top Canadian and US riders. He?ll want to prove that Drapac made the right decision.
Oliver?s Real Foods Racing are quietly optimistic about their chances for the race, and they?ll have a decent sized squad of 5 riders taking the line. Out of them, new recruits Sean Whitfield and Michael Rice are probably the strongest cards they possess, both can climb and sprint, and should appreciate the course. They?ll need to utilise their numbers to stay across the dangerous moves, and if there?s a situation where a big group forms, they may find themselves in a position where they hold the advantage.
Alistair Donohoe (Attaque Team Gusto), last year?s third place finisher will be very keen to step a bit higher up the podium, and he has all the tools to do so on this course. In particular, his rapid finish will mean that most riders will want to leave him behind before the line, and he will be perfectly content covering moves in the knowledge that he has the edge in a sprint. Of course, he?s also got elite power, as he?s shown on the track, and in numerous para-cycling events. With him for Attaque Team Gusto will be Jai Hindley, who is coming off a season in Italy. His time trial wasn?t great (29th), but he?s got big wraps on him.
Cyrus Monk of Pat?s Veg is an interesting dark horse for the title, he?s gone under the radar a bit in the off-season after African Wildlife Safari?s dissolution. He?s ended up at Pat?s Veg for 2016, and if he can continue with the promise he showed in his first season which included a superb second at Grafton to Inverell, then he?ll be a top signing for them. For this race, he?ll be an outsider, but with his combination of climbing and sprinting abilities he?ll be one to watch for if he can go to the finish in a small group. Matthew Ross, another new signing, is also in good form after taking 3rd in the Nationals Madison and has plenty of power if he is underestimated by the peloton.
Sam Hill (GPM Stulz) deserves a mention as he?ll be off the front at some point for sure. He proved that he was more than just the animator of the races when he took a breakthrough win in the Tour of Bright. There he was again part of a large early move, and with the tactics of the race coming into play, Hill was allowed to make a play for the win. He did hold off the fast-finishing Lucas Hamilton to win as well, and if the peloton plays it similarly here, Hill has the ability to repeat the feat.
Jackson Carman (Mobius Future Racing) and Michael Storer (VIS) are two riders with really impressive junior careers, and it will be interesting who they go in their step up a grade. Jason LEA (PhysioHealth Focus) has been showing signs of form recently in the Bay Criteriums and he?ll be a darkhorse for the road title if he?s given too much space from the peloton. And finally, the SEG Racing pair of Nick Schultz and Freddy Ovett are in with a shot on their best form, but with a full season of European racing on the plate, their focus will most likely be on proving themselves overseas, and that?s what their training will be preparing them for.
You can see by the length of the article that there are a lot of contenders who could potentially snag the title. Shaping as the key battle is how the big teams like State of Matter/MAAP play around the star riders that they are going to come up against. Isolating those riders and then utilising their strength in numbers will probably be the plan, but then again, they might look to conserve their own riders for an all-out assault in the final few laps. One thing is for certain, with all the top class athletes in attendance, it will be a superb viewing for the crowd.
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