Sprinters vs. puncheurs as Aussie week continues

With the tough Challambra climb at nine kilometers to go, Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race pits pure sprinters against those who can kick on the climbs.

Photo: Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

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GEELONG, Australia (VN) — Cycling’s “Aussie Week” continues in true Australian fashion with this weekend’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. It’s Australia Day celebration weekend with forecasters calling for sunny temperatures.

Perfect for a “barbie” and a bike race.

Hailed as the season’s first classic, the 2019 WorldTour sees its first one-day race in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, with the women racing Saturday (113km) and men Sunday (164km).

The big question is if the Challambra climb halfway through the final circuit is hard enough to eliminate the true sprinters.

“It’s a course that suits an all-rounder,” said Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott), hot off defending his title at the Santos Tour Down Under. “It depends on how hard that last climb is raced. Everyone will be going hard to try to gap the sprinters.”

The race, now in its third year on the WorldTour calendar, features a big loop along the spectacular Great Ocean Road before hitting a decisive final circuit around Geelong. A sharp climb at 9km to go may fracture the peloton, and from there it’s a fight to the line for the win.

“The climb is only one kilometer long, but it is very steep,” said Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s Elia Viviani. “It’s a real battle between the climbers, the sprinters, and the puncheurs. It’s going to be an exciting race.”

Last year, Viviani was gapped out on the climb yet came clawing back late in the sprint. He started way back of the reduced lead bunch and came roaring past everyone except winner Jay McCarthy.

Viviani is already on a hot streak and will be the favorite Sunday. He won a stage at the Santos Tour Down Under and wants to get his first one-day victory in the bag to carry momentum back to Europe.

Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) is hoping to get to the line with Viviani to challenge the puncheurs for the win.

“I’d love to be in the final. It’s such a hard final that it could go either way,” said Ewan, who saw his stage 5 sprint victory relegated last week at the Tour Down Under. “I’ll be expecting a lot of attacking on that final lap. We’ll go full-gas to try to get to the line and make our sprint.”

Several top names have remained in Australia to continue racing and training in the summer conditions. Stars like Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and Michael Woods (EF Education First) will stay on through the Herald Sun Tour, Australia’s oldest stage race, January 30-February 3.

“I’m excited to race here,” Woods said. “I felt good at the Tour Down Under, but I didn’t get a win or a podium. It’s such a long season, but this is a great way to ride into the year.”

On the women’s side, Chloe Hosking (Ale-Cipollini) will be looking to repeat her win from last year when the Challambra was added to the women’s course for the first time. Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott), a winner last week at the Tour Down Under, will also be among the favorites. Team Rally-UHC and Trek-Segafredo both bring strong teams as well.

After a few days of brutal heat, temperatures should be more moderate for race weekend. Forecasters are calling for highs in the mid to upper-80s — still warm, but much less than the above-100 temperatures earlier this week.

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