Cycling hits the world-famous Formula One Grand Prix circuit in Melbourne on Thursday, for a thrilling new Australia Day race, the Towards Zero RACE MELBOURNE.
A new edition to the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race calendar, the criterium-style race will see some of the world’s best men’s and women’s cyclists battle it out for the first honours of Australia’s premier cycling weekend.
The women will kick start the celebration at 9:30am as they roll off for 12 laps of the 5.3km circuit (total 63.3km) before the men follow at 12:30pm in a race of 22 laps (116.6km total).
The flat and fast laps will likely see a bunch sprint up the final straight, but there might be the opportunity to surprise too.
Having dominated at the Tour Down Under last week, ORICA-SCOTT’s Caleb Ewan will make his final race appearance in Australia as the undeniable race favourite in the men’s event.
Ewan won all of the bunch sprints and four out of six stages in Adelaide and will be hard to beat after a confidence building start to the 2017 season.
Two riders out to knock him off the top step will be international sprinters Sam Bennett (Bora Hansgrohe) and Danny van Poppel (Team Sky) who both featured in the sprint finishes at the Tour Down Under and will be looking to learn from their defeats to seek revenge on the pint-sized Australian.
On the local front, Geelong’s very own Leigh Howard returns in his first race for new team Aqua Blue Sport. Howard finish second in last year’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and will be one to watch at the Towards Zero RACE MELBOURNE.
Proving he can climb and sprint, Dimension Data’s Nathan Haas also can’t be underestimated. The Australian finished fourth overall at the Tour Down Under having impressed in the two mountain stages, but also threatened in the sprints, making the versatile rider another consideration for rivals at Albert Park.
In the women’s event, strong Dutch sprinter Kirsten Wild (Cyclance Pro Cycling) will start with as much confidence as Ewan in the men’s race.
Wild won two bunch sprints at the Women’s Tour in Adelaide and will start the Towards Zero RACE MELBOURNE as the favourite.
Australians sprinters Annette Edmondson and Chloe Hosking won’t let her have it all her own way, and will look to disappoint Wild with a win on home soil for their teams Wiggle High5 and Ale Cippolini.
Hosking herself won a stage in Adelaide, whilst Edmondson finished a narrow second to Wild on the final day of racing to put her on notice.
Local Australian team ORICA-SCOTT welcome back Sarah Roy who will give them a sprint option at the Towards Zero RACE MELBOURNE, but having dominated the summer so far, may also use their strength and depth to make the racing hard, and attempt to eliminate the pure sprinters to increase their chances of success.