Inspired by the great cycling monuments of Europe, one-day classic racing is as entertaining and action-packed as it gets.
The 2024 Elite Men’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race will see 91 riders across 13 teams contest a 176km route over Geelong, the Surf Coast, and Bellarine Peninsula, while the Deakin University Elite Women’s Race welcomes 96 riders and 16 teams for their 140km course.
As a one-day classic race, victory is all on the line – there are no second chances. With history as our guide, this year’s races remain as difficult to predict as an Aussie El Niño weather pattern.
Rider selection and the make-up of teams for the 2024 race are set to make the race a compelling contest from gun to tape.
“We’ve got riders who are targeting this week of racing specifically,” Race Director Scott Sunderland said.
“And then we have teams who are very strong across the board, with their strategy being to gain as many UCI World Ranking points as possible with the victory being the ultimate goal.”
While the 2024 courses have remained unchanged from last year’s return to racing, there is little to suggest anything is predictable come race day.
“The design of the course has been done specifically to keep tactics open for different scenarios to win,” Sunderland said.
“It could be an early break from the first kilometers, or it could be a waiting game until they arrive for the Geelong circuits… Or it could happen in the middle of the race, with the crosswinds along Thirteenth Beach.”
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A look at exactly how past races have been won reveals some clues as to what teams may plan for in 2024.
In the seven men’s editions, a sprint victory from a large bunch has determined the race winner five times. On one occasion (2020, Dries Devenyns) it was won in a sprint à deux, while in 2016, Peter Kennaugh held onto a solo victory 12km out from the finish.
However, the women’s race has seen just two bunch finishes (2017, Annemiek Van Vleuten and 2018, Chloe Hosking), one sprint à deux (Loes Adegeest, 2023), and four solo victories.
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For cycling aficionados and general sports fans alike, the 2024 races loom as a battle between homegrown talent and international raiders.
With Australians making up 30% and 34% of this year’s men’s and women’s pelotons respectively, intrigue surrounds how the different stages of rider preparation will translate on the unpredictable and dynamic course.
It’s a question that Dr Dan Dwyer, Senior Lecturer in Applied Sport Science at Deakin University, has pondered.
“Because the race attracts riders from both hemispheres, there is a mix of athletes who are at different points in their season,” Dwyer said.
“Because we’re in our summer, the Australians have had an excellent training opportunity in recent months, designing their program that has them peaking around a race like Cadel’s.”
“But for the Europeans and North American-based riders coming here, they’re probably adequately recovered from last season, and able to restart hard racing early in their season.”
History has told us that the victory margin sits on the visitor’s side of the ledger, with international riders making up all but one of the men’s seven previous race winners – Jay McCarthy’s 2018 sprint win the only exception.
It’s a slightly more even statistic in the women’s event, with three Australians having won the race – though the most recent was Chloe Hosking’s effort in 2018.
Dr Dwyer, previously a cycling sport physiologist at the Victorian Institute of Sport, teaches and researches the science behind athletic performance – understanding results and interpreting an athlete’s performance profile, enabling them to design their training program and implement evidence-based practice in their coaching.
It’s the type of work you’d likely see within UCI WorldTour Teams, delivered by specialist sports scientists and coaches with a science-based understanding of performance. Using technology to capture training activity and race performance, their job entails understanding the condition of riders and the efficacy of their training load.
“It can also include the live analysis of speed, power, and heart rate to help make decisions in race situations via team radio and strategy,” Dwyer said.
As a Geelong local and keen observer of the race, we asked Dwyer his thoughts on how the race may play out in 2024: “It’s just so hard to predict,” Dwyer said.
“My best guess is that the pelotons [both men’s and women’s] will probably stay together for the first 100km or so, before they switch on and chase down any breakaway once returning to Geelong and begin their laps [four for the men and twice for the women].”
“It is really hard for a solo or duo to stay away in those laps of Geelong – a large peloton can hold higher speeds on the straight and flat sections, but also because of the gruelling nature of Challambra crescent climb.”
“The most likely decisive move, I predict, is a small breakaway in the last lap or last half lap – possibly before the last ascent of the Challambra climb.”
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Set to once again play a decisive role in the race, Challambra, an uphill 830m stretch of road made famous in the 2010 UCI Road World Championships, will host a live-site with food and drink options, big screen, and entertainment.
“Challambra climb is without a doubt the key to this race,” Sunderland continued.
“Whether it’s an early breakaway who have successfully denied the chasing peloton, a fast sprinter hanging onto the peloton for the sprint finish on Eastern Beach road, or the classic specialist just lighting it up and making it difficult for anyone to chase down.”
“If you really want to see the pain, the grimaces on the riders’ faces, that’s the place to be,” Sunderland said.
With no rider ever having successfully won the event on more than one occasion, the stage is set.
Only one male and one female champion will leave Geelong triumphant. The only thing to be certain about the 2024 edition of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road is that entertainment and fireworks await.