Australians tend to do things their own way – and cycling is no exception. It works well for them with the riders and events from Down Under playing an increasingly significant part in the globalisation of the sport. The Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (February 1-2) is set to prove it again, as it welcomes the World’s elite of male and female riders along with thousands of cycling enthusiasts for a vibrant weekend of racing around Geelong.
The Australian public is enjoying a booming scene, with leading events such as the Santos Tour Down Under (opening event of the UCI WorldTour) and the Herald Sun Tour being joined by strong newcomers such as the Cadel Evans Ocean Road Race (born in 2015) and Race Torquay, whose first edition will be held at the end of January (30th). In the Australian summer, these events bring a breath of fresh air to cycling with a buzzing atmosphere celebrating Men’s and Women’s racing along with rides dedicated to the amateurs.
At the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, the UCI WorldTour and UCI Women’s WorldTour events will thus be preceded by the Swisse People’s Ride. Each year, more than 3000 amateurs take on the same roads as the pro riders with one of the three circuits (35km, 65km or 115km) designed around Geelong, through Barwon Heads (Cadel Evans’ hometown) and along the Great Ocean Road, which is a tourist attraction in its own right, winding along the Surf Coast.
They get to share this moment of cycling with a legend of the sport, Australia’s number one pedalling hero: Cadel Evans, who also participates in a family ride with kids on the day before. Winner of the 2011 Tour de France, and UCI World Champion in 2009, Evans retired after riding the first edition of the pro race in his name in 2015. The event has since been embracing the “Cadel’s legacy”, on and off the bike, as an “inspiring example of achievement through dedication and determination”.
An ongoing journey
On his final day as a professional rider, Cadel Evans finished fifth in Geelong as part of a small group of attackers. “I have dedicated my life to this sport, I discovered the passion for cycling as a 14-year-old in the ‘90s and I have been a full time professional for 20 years,” he said at the time. “For me it is all about giving back to the sport that has given me so much over the years. I am forever grateful for this sport and anyone who ever supported me along this journey.”
The journey has successfully continued, with the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race quickly stepping up to the UCI WorldTour (2017). It is now set to be the first UCI Women’s WorldTour event, providing a spectacular opening for the 2020 series in Oceania.
With a finale designed around the Challambra Crescent Climb (a punchy 830m ascent), the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race has proved to favour strong riders with a devastating kick. Gianni Meersman, Peter Kennaugh, Nikias Arndt, local champion Jay McCarthy and Elia Viviani are the winners of the Men’s event to date. The Women’s race has crowned three local heroes – Rachel Neylan (in 2015), the recent Australian National Champion Amanda Spratt (2016) and Chloe Hosking (2018) – with 2019 UCI World Champion Annemiek van Vleuten (2017) and the Cuban Arlenis Sierra (2019) the other winners.
Australian talents, unique talents
You need spectacular early-season form to shine on the Surf Coast – and an Australian background can’t hurt. Former winner Jay McCarthy (Bora-hansgrohe) is back in 2020, as is Mitchelton-Scott’s Cameron Meyer, who has four participations already. And many of their Aussie compatriots present an interesting set of abilities for this event, with Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) leading the way.
Both of them show that even when it comes to the art of sprinting, Australians do things differently. “Bling” Matthews has broadened his range of abilities to the extent that has seen him win the Tour de France points classification (2017) as well as demanding Classics such as the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec (2018, 2019) and the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal (2018). He also finished fifth atop the mighty Mur de Huy at the 2018 Flèche Wallonne.
Caleb Ewan is a stage winner on the three Grand Tours and a sprinter whose unique style has turned the “Pocket Rocket” into a fans’ favourite all around the world. At Lotto Soudal, he enjoys the support of another unique Australian talent, the experienced Adam Hansen. The native of the state of Queensland, “Hanseeno” is famous for his wit and ingenuity – and he's designed sportswear and cycling shoes and even software for his team’s management. He is celebrated as the rider with most consecutive Grand Tour participations: 20, from the 2011 Vuelta a España through to the 2018 Giro d’Italia – and he finished them all!
The Women’s peloton is also full of special Australian talent. Think of Sarah Gigante (Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank). She’s only 19 years old and she kicked off 2020 with victories at the Australian National Time Trial Championships in both the Elite and Under 23 categories!
In her second participation in the Cadel Road Race, Gigante will race along former winners Chloe Hosking (Rally Cycling) and Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott), both back for their fifth participation. Each of them showed signs of early form with a stage win in the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under – Spratt also won the Elite Women’s road race at the Australian National Championships.
The overall victory in the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under eventually went to USA’s Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo), who will also race around Geelong. She was second in 2017. Let’s see how she does against the Aussies this time on the Great Ocean Road.