2021 Aussie Road Race Preview – Ciclismo Internacional

2021 Aussie Road Race Preview

By David Hunter

Buninyong > Buninyong 186.5km

A route so familiar it feels like a family member. 16 laps of the circuit, which features the ascent of Mount Buninyong.

2.8km at 5.2% doesn’t sound much, but you try doing it 16 times. The hardest section is just before the crest, this is where gaps can be created, and riders dropped. The climb means we have around 3400m of climbing throughout the day, which is a lot for the riders to deal with.

Weather

Here comes the bit we’re not used to! The temperature will be under 20 degrees, something I can’t remember seeing at this race, moving it one month seems to have made a significant difference. The wind isn’t much, around 15km/h, and it’s going to be a tailwind on the climb, which is very significant.

Tactics

Team BikeExchange only have 6 riders; this makes a massive difference to how the tactics play out. They simple don’t have the numbers to control the day, they have to go for the early break. This means the opening laps will be very fast, and a big group will get off the front never to be seen again. It wouldn’t surprise me to see BikeExchange have 4 or 5 riders in the move, then they’ll have a tactical advantage over the rest.

The big issue they need to deal with is the presence of Luke Plapp. If you haven’t heard of the youngster, you are excused, as he’s only recently started to make waves. In the recent Santos Racing Festival, the race that replaced the TDU, he won a stage and rode up Willunga on the wheel of Richie Porte, he wasn’t dropped. He then went and won the national ITT title, beating Durbridge by 43 seconds. The track rider is something of a phenomenon, as he can climb and also has a fast finish, BikeExchange will be worried about him. As he rides for a small team, BikeExchange will have to use their numbers to burn his matches. This means once we get the big break, they will rotate the attacks until the elastic eventually snaps and take it from there.

Professional Insight

For this race we’re joined by Chris Harper of Team Jumbo-Visma, a rider who has lots of experience of this race.

What did you think of your ride in the TT?

“The result is disappointing it always is being off the podium at a national championship. I don’t think I did a bad ride though. It was always going to be tough for me against Durbo and those track guys just because they’re all so dialled in the TT position and can still produce a heap of power in the position, but I wasn’t a long way off Kell(O’Brien). TTing is an area I want to keep improving on so doing them as much as I can and learning from them and continually improving whether that’s trying to get a faster position or producing more power in the position it’s only going to help me going forward.”

What’s your winter preparations been like?

“I’ve had a good prep coming into nationals. I arrived back in Adelaide in early November then from there I did my mandatory 2 weeks hotel quarantine but since then I’ve been out on the road training which has been great. The last block has been solid, and I’ve started having good sensations and it was also beneficial to be able to race the Santos Festival of Cycling it had been a long time since I’d pinned a number on in the Giro and sometimes it helps to do a bit of riding at race speed and get some faster days in the legs.” 

BikeExchange arrive with just 6 riders, how does that impact the race?

“Yeah only 6 riders which is less than what we are used to, but you also must remember 3 of them have won on this course before so they’re still super experienced and very strong. They’re by far the strongest squad in the race and really, they will more than likely dictate how it is raced on Sunday. I don’t think they’re going to have it all their own way though, there are some guys riding super strong at the moment that they will be worried about and they also have a few good guys around them to support them.”

Being a solo rider is always very hard. How will you approach the race?

“It will be tricky to get it right, nationals always is, just because the racing tends to be unpredictable, and it can be won in so many ways by a lot of different types of rider. I think I’ll just need to wait early on and see how the racing is playing out, in particular what BikeExchange are trying to do. I think trying to be at the front of the race without forcing anything is a good way to approach it.” 

What have you learned from your performance last year?

“I don’t think I raced the smartest last year. I attacked a lot early on and really tried to force the race to split up and be a hard day. I’ve been aggressive in a lot of racing recently so hopefully I can learn from last year and try and stay a little more patient then if I am on a good day hopefully it means I still have good sensations in the legs coming into the last part of the race.” 

Who are the men to watch?

“Most of the guys from BikeExchange could win here but in particular I think Meyer, Durbridge and Hamilton will all be very dangerous. Lucas came very close last year and Meyer and Durbridge have done it before.

Luke Plapp and Kell O’Brien are both riding super strong especially Luke has come off a string of very impressive performances and will go into the race with all eyes on him. 

I think others are a little harder to predict and will just have to see on the day. BridgeLane have a couple good riders who could go well and UKYO has 3 very strong riders, they could be super dangerous if they’re in good shape.”

Weather forecast is for 16 degrees and a tailwind on the climb. Obviously it’s much cooler than usual, how does that change things?

“It will make a massive difference. I always think when it’s hot you can probably write off half the field before we even start the race. The tailwind on the climb makes a huge difference as well, last year it was a block headwind up there and you could really feel the difference to being on the front or sitting on the wheels. I think in the past when it’s been a headwind some strong sprinters like Caleb have gotten around the course at the front whereas when it’s a tailwind you can see some strong breaks never come back.”

Contenders

BikeExchange – they line up with Meyer, Durbridge, Edmondson, Hamilton, Groves and Howson. As I’ve mentioned, they can’t control all day, I expect to see them ride an aggressive race and force a big move. They have three former winners of the race, and lots of experience in their ranks. All 6 of them have the ability to win, even Groves who is much more of a sprinter. It is impossible to tell how the race will unfold, but I would be amazed if Durbridge, Meyer and Hamilton aren’t at the pointy end in the closing laps. The tailwind on the climb is good news for Lucas Hamilton, not many will be able to keep up with him when he pushes the pace.

Luke Plapp – the new Aussie sensation. With the world tour teams circling, he knows that it won’t be long until we see him over in Europe. His team is weak, which means this race is going to be very hard for him. His strongest teammate is Kell O’Brien, another one of these exceptional track cyclists. If BikeExchange focus too much on Plapp, there could be an opportunity for O’Brien to surprise. He was 3rd in the TT, and also looked impressive in the Santos race. The problem is that with just two strong riders, how do you match up against six experienced riders from BikeExchange?

Chris Harper – you’ve already heard from the Jumbo-Visma rider, one that I have a lot of time for. Chris is a brilliant climber, but being a solo rider is very tough in any race, let alone a national championship. His record here is good, he was 3rd in 2018 and 2nd in 2019, but that was when he was riding for a team with lots of numbers. Last year was his first as a solo rider, and his result of 7th was okay. As Chris said himself, he used up too many matches early in the day looking to force the race, but it sounds like he’s learned from that. The tailwind on the climb is great news for him, this is where he can make a difference and potentially put some of the BikeExchange riders into difficulty, but it won’t be easy.

Marcus Culey – was brilliant last year, picking up the bronze medal. This year he has some help in the shape of Ben Dyball and Nathan Earle. All three ride for Team UKYO, a Japanese based team. These boys can climb well, and have lots of experience too. They are clearly a level below the big names, but you can sometimes get a surprise in this race.

Prediction Time

BikeExchange might only have 6 riders, but they have so much power and experience I expect them to ride Luke Plapp out of contention. The tailwind means this should be a day for the climbers and I think Lucas Hamilton will take win.

David Hunter

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