Scroll through the start list of the Israel-Premier Tech squad and it becomes difficult to pick out the team’s podium contender for the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race – the problem is certainly not that it doesn’t have one but that it has many.
How can you go past the Tour Down Under winner Stephen Williams or the rising 23-year-old from New Zealand Corbin Strong? Then there is Simon Clarke – who came third last year and second in his only other start at the race in 2015. Then of course there is George Bennett, who was also in the top ten last year while still racing for UAE Team Emirates.
“We have got a lot of depth and we don’t necessarily have a team of stars but you don’t need a team of stars to do well,” directeur sportif Sam Bewley told Cyclingnews before the Surf Coast Classic on Thursday.
“You just need a well-drilled group and everybody is in really good condition which we know – we saw that in Adelaide – so we have plenty of options and you need plenty of options in Cadel’s race as it can play out in so many different ways.”
Over the years there have been several different winning scenarios, with the repeated climb of Challambra, 9km from the line, a critical point that causes splits but the downhill run-in does offer the potential for regrouping.
The victors of the race, which first ran in 2015, have been delivered from small group sprints, a solo winner, a leading duo, or even a 30-riders strong bunch storming toward the line.
Williams – second on Willunga Hill and first at the Mount Lofty finale of the Tour Down Under where he was the overall winner of the first WorldTour race of the season – clearly has the bases covered on the climbs and that too is Bennett’s forte.
Then there is Strong, a rider who took third during the Surf Coast Classic straight after coming back from illness at the Tour Down Under. Strong is the card for Israel-Premier Tech to play in the case of a reduced bunch finish with Clarke as somewhat of a wildcard.
The Australian has already proven his potential in that role, claiming his third place on the podium in 2023 when a plan to deliver Strong to the line for a sprint didn’t quite work out so he had to take his own chance.
“I have had a good Aussie summer in preparation for Nationals and Tour Down Under,” Clarke told Cyclingnews on Thursday.
“But we also have some fast guys like Corbin and Stevie Williams so we just need to see how the race plays out.
“But I am always there to support them as a primary goal and if something happens, as we saw last year, I can challenge for a result but we will see how we go.”
No matter what happens on Sunday, the team already has plenty of reason to walk away from their Australian trip happy given Williams’ Tour Down Under triumph. There were whole-hearted celebrations after that victory in South Australia. Followed by a couple of relaxed days with a game of cricket and a swim thrown in but it was all in aid of recalibrating and refocusing for the races ahead, which given their success so far they will now approach with a target on their back.
“We’d love to win on Sunday if we can,” said Bewley. “Things do get a little more tricky with being the team in the spotlight but that’s ok, we are happy to take that.”