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GEELONG, Australia (VN) — The season’s first self-styled “classic” hopes to keep the momentum building in 2020.
Now in its sixth edition, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race has quickly gained traction on the international calendar.
“This is the first of the one-day classics,” said race director Scott Sunderland. “We’re really happy how the race has evolved. We had a plan when we started this five years ago, and the future looks bright.”
Since its inception, the race has put equal focus on both men’s and women’s events. The format has now been expanded to a four-day event, with a circuit race held Thursday at nearby Torquay, with public rides leading into the women’s race Saturday and the men’s race Sunday.
The races draw top names, including men’s world champion Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) and Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott). For 2020, the women’s race opens the Women’s WorldTour calendar while the men’s race is emerging as one of the one-day races that sprinters can target on the international calendar.
“Of all the big races on the calendar I can win, this was an important victory,” said last year’s winner Elia Viviani (Cofidis). “I really love this race. Not just because it fits my characteristics, but because I like racing down here. Of all the second-places [in 2018], the ones that bothered me were here and Gent-Wevelgem.”
There are not that many one-day races that the faster sprinters have a real chance of winning on the men’s calendar. Milano-Sanremo, Gent-Wevelgem, Paris-Tours and Scheldeprijs are top among them. And that’s just the sort of company that Sutherland is hoping the Cadel Evans race will occupy in the coming years.
“We’re seeing bigger names coming down every year,” Sunderland said. “And we’re excited to the see the women’s race grow as well. The depth of the field is impressive this year.”
With its new WorldTour-status, the women’s race is drawing a top field for 2020. Last year, Arlenis Sierra (Astana) rode away from the pack last year, but 2018 winner Chloe Hosking (Rally) and other sprinters will be working to control the race. Eight Americans are among the starters, including Tour Down Under winner Ruth Winder and Taylor Wiles (Trek-Segafredo), Lauren Stephens and Erica Clevenger (TIBCO-SVB), Kristabel Doebel-Hickok, Heidi Franz and Leigh Ann Ganzar (Rally Cycling Women) and Alexis Ryan (Canyon SRAM).
“It’s a big race for the Australian riders, but you see more teams are coming down,” Hosking said. “Every year it’s getting bigger.”
Held the week after the Santos Tour Down Under (January 21-26), the races are a natural extension for teams and riders making the long trip to Australia. Many top riders made the flight in early to mid-January, both to acclimatize to the Australian summer, but also to take advantage of the good training roads and racing opportunities.
Riders and teams use the Australian summer to kick start their respective seasons. Summer weather, good roads and solid racing have made the season opener in Australia an ever more popular choice.
As soon as the Tour Down under wraps up, mechanics pile bikes, wheels and equipment into trucks, and the caravan makes the drive from Adelaide to Geelong. Riders and staff take a quick flight on Monday, and no one misses a beat.
“These races are nice to get everyone working together here in Australia before we are going back to Europe,” said Trek-Segafredo’s Kenny Elissonde. “Australia is a great place to start the season. The racing is serious, but the rest of the time here is pretty relaxed.”
Teams like Trek-Segafredo have brought both their men’s and women’s squads to compete in the Australian block. Some teams will stay on to race the Jayco Herald Sun Tour next month, meaning riders will spend nearly a month in Australia before heading to Europe.
The Geelong area is one of Australia’s hotbeds, and it hosted the 2010 world championships. Sunderland and local backers wanted to build on that legacy to create a European-styled one-day race in the rolling terrain around Geelong. Cadel Evans, the 2011 Tour de France winner, acts as ambassador and is involved in course design and promotion.
The courses provide an early season challenge for the peloton without being too demanding. Both routes loop around the Geelong area, heading south to the headlands around Torquay and Bells Beach, home of Australia’s surfing culture. The women race 121km and the men 171km. That distance is long enough to make it difficult, but not too much for such an early season race.
This year, cooler weather swept over the area just in time for the women’s race after scorching temperatures earlier in the week, proving a bit of a respite for race-day conditions.
Central to both courses is the Challambra climb, a key feature in the 2010 world championship course. The climb can split the bunch, and inject some drama in a drag race between attackers and the sprinters on the road back to Geelong for the finale.