The weekend brings the final international events of the Australian road racing summer – the 143km Deakin University Elite Women’s Road Race on Saturday and the 176.5km Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race on Sunday.
Both races take place in Geelong, the host town of the 2010 World Championships, just outside Melbourne and 700km south of the Tour Down Under base city of Adelaide.
The pair of one-day races, run since 2015 for the men and 2016 for the men, offer a last chance at success down under for the European teams and riders who have flown across the world to kick off their season before taking the long trip back to racing in Spain, Italy, Belgium, and France.
Both races have seen varied winners since their inception, from sprinters such as Marius Mayrhofer, Chloe Hosking and Elia Viviani, to attackers including Annemiek van Vleuten, Dries Devenyns and Amanda Spratt.
The weekend is set to bring another clash of styles on the predominantly flat courses, so we’ve scoured the startlists to find 10 riders to watch at the Deakin University Elite Women’s Road Race and Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
Amanda Spratt is impossible to leave off a contenders list for the Deakin University Elite Women’s Road Race, given her history of results. Spratt was second in 2023, third in both 2020 and 2019, and she took victory in 2016 at the first time of asking at the one-day race, when it was still a 1.2 event.
She comes into the race after a solid Tour Down Under performance where she finished in the top ten of each of the three stages but wasn’t as successful as last season, where only Grace Brown (FDJ-Suez) could best her. Spratt finished fourth overall.
Her talents don’t suit the mainly flatter 143km route, but steep inclines in the final 40km offer Spratt a place to animate the race. Backed by a strong Lidl-Trek outfit that includes Brodie Chapman – who could also challenge for the win – Spratt will want to attack away on one of the inclines. After losing the two-up sprint to Loes Adegeest last season, expect Spratt to light the race up over one of the two ascents up Challambra Crescent (1.1km at 8.5%) to distance the faster finishers. (JM)
As was the case at the Tour Down Under and Thursday’s Surf Coast Classic, Eritrean Classics star Girmay heads up an Intermarché-Wanty squad geared to help him to victory.
He’s already tasted success this season, taking the win at the 1.1-ranked Surf Coast Classic and having picked up a couple of podium places at the Tour Down Under, both behind Sam Welsford, who won’t be racing here.
He beat a weaker field at the Surf Coast Classic, though several of the men behind him in the sprint – Elia Viviani, Corbin Strong, Max Kanter, and Dan McLay – will also be taking on the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
Fastmen Dion Smith and Madis Mikhels will be helping Girmay on Sunday and perhaps even taking up the slack themselves if he doesn’t feature in the finish himself.
Of course, like many in the peloton this weekend, the biggest goals lie later on in the spring. Girmay enjoyed a winning start to 2023, too, before illness undid his Classics campaign – he’ll be hoping for more success on Sunday to open the way to a starring role in Italy and Belgium in March and April. (DO)
FDJ-Suez won’t have the defending champion Loes Adegeest on the start line, but will instead rely on the duo of Grace Brown and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. They come as a package deal, with the duo affording the French side a near-perfect gameplan for Saturday’s race.
Brown, who recently reclaimed her national time trial title, has more than enough power on the flat to attack away from the peloton and make them sweat, while Uttrup Ludwig can wait in the wings with her ability to sprint uphill after a hard day in the saddle bringing her wins at the Tour Down Under most recently but also on the biggest stage at the Tour de France Femmes.
Uttrup Ludwig claimed stage 2 of this year’s Tour Down Under as FDJ-Suez changed their plan of attack to the Dane when the Australian struggled in defending her 2023 TDU crown. Brown didn’t have the legs throughout the three stages as she dealt with residual off-season injury issues, so Uttrup Ludwig may already be plan A for the Deakin University Road Race.
If the Dane makes it over the hills and survives attacks from the likes of Amanda Spratt (Lidl-Trek) and Sarah Gigante (AG Insurance-Soudal), she will be the perfect option to explode to the line in a reduced-group final sprint. (JM)
After taking the glory at the Australian Criterium Championships, Caleb Ewan wasn’t quite able to replicate the win at last week’s Tour Down Under, his home race. He’s back with his ‘home’ team this year, returning to Jayco-AlUla after a five-year stint at Lotto-Dstny.
The likes of Kelland O’Brien and Blake Quick will be among the all-Australian squad hoping to deliver to him to first win at a UCI race since moving back to the squad, and on paper, at least, he’s the top pure sprinter on the start list.
Fourth, fifth, and sixth places at the Tour Down Under suggest that Ewan is understandably not on top form to start the season, though a good result here will put him in good stead heading back to Europe and his main spring goal at Milan-San Remo.
Fellow new signing Luke Plapp is also down to take the start for Jayco, though whether he’ll have much influence on the race will depend entirely upon his recovery from the nasty road rash he suffered in the crash that took him out of the Tour Down Under on stage 3. (DO)
The 2024 Tour Down Under brought Sarah Gigante the perfect start with her new side AG Insurance-Soudal as she took an emphatic stage victory up Willunga Hill and the overall title with it to complete an emotional comeback to pro cycling. Gigante was by far and away the best climber, attacking from the near foot of the climb until everyone was dropped.
She struggled in her two seasons at Movistar with injury and illness stifling the opening years of a bright young career, but this fresh start with the Belgian side has more than reignited the 23-year-old’s journey to professional cycling’s upper echelons. Gigante will be eyeing up the uphill kickers and double ascent of Challambra Crescent (1.1km at 8.5%) in the final 40km, where she could again make the difference over the WorldTour peloton.
If Gigante is unable to split the race apart, her team will have Ally Wollaston available for a sprint, but the race has once come down to a bunch sprint in 2018. Gigante has only raced the Deakin University Road Race twice in 2020 and 2019, without much success in 73rd and 24th, respectively, but she’s a different rider now, and her confidence will be sky-high after her Tour Down Under triumph. All eyes should be on Gigante anytime the road begins to steepen. (JM)
Simon Clarke heads up an Israel-Premier Tech squad riding high off Stephen Williams’ overall success at the recent Tour Down Under, the team’s first-ever WorldTour stage race victory.
The 37-year-old played a team role at the week-long race but has form at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, having taken third place last year. Teammate Corbin Strong, perhaps a better option in a bunch sprint, could also feature, having taken fifth last time out.
He’ll have podiums on stage 2 of the Tour Down Under and at the Surf Coast Classic to give him confidence this Sunday, while Williams and George Bennett are also in the squad, even if the terrain looks too flat for them to have a major effect on proceedings. Giro d’Italia breakaway star Derek Gee is another rider to watch on the four ascents of Challambra Crescent (1.2km at 7.8%) on the closing circuit. (DO)
Liv-AlUla Jayco have had an outstanding start to the season with Ruby Roseman-Gannon winning both the road race and criterium titles at the Australian Championships.
There were high hopes for her to win a stage at the recent Tour Down Under, but while she finished just outside the top 10 during the three days of racing, she did aid her teammates Georgia Baker, Alex Manly and Ella Wyllie to strong stage results with the 21-year-old also finishing 7th overall.
The Deakin University Elite Women’s Road Race is arguably a better parcour for Roseman-Gannon, given its one-day format and flatter terrain. If she can hold her own on the final two ascents over Challambra Crescent (1.1km at 8.5%), she will be the one to watch for the victory in Geelong.
The team has multiple contenders, with Manly as a second rider to watch for the home team. The race has only once come down to a bunch sprint, in 2018, where Chloe Hosking took the honours.
So, the odds might be more in favour of a rider like Manly, who is the better climber of the two and an excellent option for a late-race breakaway, especially over the climbs inside the last 25km and with a fast kick; she is the perfect option for a small group sprint. (KF)
Viviani’s stint at the top of the sprinting world looks some way in the rear-view mirror in the 2024 season, with his most recent Grand Tour success coming back in 2019 – the same year he opened his season with a win here and at on the opening stage of the Tour Down Under.
He took four wins last year, albeit at smaller races such as the CRO Race and Tour of Guangxi, and leads Ineos Grenadiers this weekend, with the British team bringing several men ready for a lead-out.
Veteran racer Ben Swift will be on hand, as will time trial stars Josh Tarling and Filippo Ganna, both of whom could also strike out on their own if the mood takes them. (DO)
UAE Team ADQ have a solid contender in Sofia Bertizzolo, who arrives fresh from two podium finishes in stages at the Tour Down Under and the victory in the points classification. She also just won Geelong Classics, making her an absolute favourite for the win at the Deakin University Elite Women’s Road Race.
Bertizzolo has a fast finish but is also tactically savvy, with the depth to create her own race opportunities and the strength to carry a breakaway to the line.
It is the strongest start to Bertizzolo’s season in her eight-year career. Although she has been close on many occasions, she only just took her first WorldTour win last year in a stage at the Tour de Romandie, and has carried that strength into the new year.
It would be a surprise not to see Bertizzolo among the top three in Geelong. (KF)
The field at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race is far from the strongest of the season, with big sprint names such as Fabio Jakobsen, Jasper Philipsen, Arnaud De Lie, and Mads Pedersen all starting their 2024 seasons in Europe and the Middle East.
Those absences pave the way for outsiders to taste success this weekend, with Astana Qazaqstan’s Max Kanter among them. The German is set to primarily figure in Mark Cavendish’s lead-out train this season, though has had his own chances for success this January.
He’s taken five top 10s so far in Australia across the Tour Down Under and Surf Coast Classic, with the best being fifth in Campbelltown on stage 5 of the former. With several of the names racing there not in action on Sunday, Kanter should have a better chance at a podium here. (DO)