Preview: The elite men’s road race at the 2022 Australian Road Nationals
For the second year running, the Australia summer of cycling has been gutted by COVID. The only event to escape fully unscathed is the Road National Championships, currently underway in and around Ballarat.
The championships conclude this Sunday with the elite road races. We’ve already previewed the women’s race; read on for your guide to the elite men’s race.
If you’ve watch even a single edition of the Aussie Road Nats in the past 15 years, you’ll be familiar with the road race course that’ll be used this weekend.
Each 11.6 km lap starts in the town of Buninyong before tackling the 2.9 km stepwise climb up Mt. Buninyong. From there the course undulates and descends its way back into Buninyong via a couple of twists and turns through Federation University.
While the Mt. Buninyong circuit has changed in some minor ways in the 15 years since Road Nats came back to Ballarat, the course used this weekend is the same one that’s been used for the past four years, ever since Federation Uni came on board as the event’s title sponsor.
It’s a tough course, one that tends to rule out the purest of sprinters, but also the purest of climbers. Instead it’s a strong all-rounder that tends to come up trumps in Buninyong.
The elite men will tackle 16 laps of the circuit for a total of 185.6 km.
How it might play out
Here’s how the 15 editions of this race have played out around Mt. Buninyong:
- Nine were won by a solo rider.
- Four were won from a group of three.
- One was won from a group of five.
- One was won from a group of six.
Those numbers paint a pretty clear picture: this is your classic race of attrition. While Mt. Buninyong isn’t the world’s toughest climb, the repeated ascents do a wonderful job of thinning out the field, particularly once the pace increases and the attacks start flying in the final laps.
We won’t be seeing a big bunch sprint on Sunday afternoon. Instead it will be a solo winner or a small group that reaches the line first. How we get to that point, well, that’s another matter entirely.
Every edition of the men’s road race at Mt. Bunyinong seems to produce a dynamic, aggressive, and engaging race where it’s typically quite hard to keep track of all the moves. There’ll almost certainly be an early breakaway – and riders have won from this move before – but it’s later on that things will get most interesting.
Expect to see a bevy of attacks in the closing laps. We’ll see small groups get clear of the main field, groups coming together, groups splintering, solo riders punching clear, more regrouping. Really, just about anything could happen, but when it all shakes out, there won’t be many riders left with a shot at victory.
Riders to watch
Cameron Meyer (BikeExchange-Jayco) winning a third-straight title seems as likely a result as any on Sunday. A strong all-rounder, Meyer is very well suited to this course. Perhaps most importantly, his experience in Buninyong gives him a real advantage. Meyer is a very wily bike rider, who knows exactly how to measure his effort in this race. See his win last year as a key example. He was dropped on the penultimate lap, but pulled out all the stops to win an extraordinary sprint from a small group.
The West Australian has raced in the elite ranks here on 13 occasions and has seven top 10s, and has finished first, second, third, fourth and sixth. Expect him to be in the mix again Sunday. If he was to win, he’d be the first male rider to win three in a row since John Trevorrow between 1978 and 1980. (On the women’s side, Kathy Watt won three in a row from 1992 to 1994).
It’s worth noting that Meyer won’t enjoy the sort of team support he might have had a few years ago – presumably due to COVID-related travel difficulties, he’ll have just three teammates on the day. Even in last year’s COVID-affected edition, BikeExchange had six riders on the startlist.
One of Meyer’s teammates is Luke Durbridge, another rider who performs brilliantly on this circuit. He won back in 2013 and is a regular in the top 10. Durbridge will probably look to get in the early break, as he is wont to do on this circuit, and from there, just about anything is possible. Another win certainly wouldn’t be a surprise.
In what is an interesting late development, it looks like Michael Matthews might be racing on Sunday as well. At the time of writing he’s yet to enter, but his Instagram Stories suggest he could be there. If he is, it will be his first Nationals since 2014.
Matthews won the bunch sprint for second back in 2013 (see image below), and he was on the podium twice in the U23 ranks. If he has come out of his off-season well, and he is in the lead group at the finish, look out.
Jumbo-Visma is expected to have two riders on the startline in Chris Harper and new recruit Rohan Dennis. It was on this circuit that Harper really made a name for himself, finishing second and third as a Continental rider. He’s finished seventh and 10th since joining the WorldTour. You wouldn’t want to bet on him missing the top 10.
If Dennis starts, we can probably expect him to ride in support of Harper. Wednesday’s time trial – where Dennis took a fourth Australian title in emphatic fashion – was his bigger target. While Dennis has all the attributes to win on this circuit (he won the U23 race in 2012), he’s yet to finish an elite race here in five starts.
Luke Plapp will be the sole Ineos Grenadiers rider in the race having missed the chance to defend his TT title on Wednesday due to being a COVID close contact. Plapp was strong last year on debut (riding in the elites when he could have ridden U23s) and put in a threatening long-range solo move that excited many (but ultimately didn’t pay off). With slightly better timing, Plapp could be a real threat on Sunday. His best chance of victory will likely come from another solo move.
Chris Hamilton (DSM) finished sixth here back in 2018 but that career-best result probably isn’t representative of his talent. If Hamilton has come out of the off-season well, he could challenge for a podium finish.
With fewer WorldTour riders on the startlist than we’ve seen in a long time (seven this year vs 24 in 2018), this year’s Road Nats presents a great opportunity for some of the smaller teams to shine. Chief among those teams, as usual, is Bridgelane.
The Australian Continental team is fielding a squad of seven riders – the most of any team – including some strong contenders. Nick White was fourth last year and won here as an U23 in 2019. He’s likely to be one of the fastest finishers in whatever group he’s in.
Bridgelane also has James Whelan who steps down to Conti level in 2022 after three years on the WorldTour with EF Education-Nippo. Whelan was sixth last year and is very likely to play a role in the closing laps.
Japanese Continental team Ukyo will be ably represented by former WorldTour riders Ben Dyball and Nathan Earle. Earle has three top-10s on this circuit and Dyball has three top-15s. Both are good enough to be in the mix when the real attacks start happening.
Other riders to watch include Road Nats stalwart Mark O’Brien (Inform TMX Make) who, in 12 appearances, has reached the top 10 on five occasions. 2020 NRS winner Brendan Johnston was ninth in 2020 and could play a role deep into the race. Cyrus Monk (CycleHouse) is a near-certainty to get himself into the early breakaway. And keep an eye on the plucky Liam White (Oliver’s Racing) as well; another rider who’s likely keen to get up the road.
A maximum temperature of 27 ºC is forecast for Sunday with very little wind expected. The conditions are likely to have little impact on the outcome of the race.
How to watch it
The elite men’s road race will be broadcast live in Australia via SBS On Demand, SBS TV, and Fox Sports Australia. International viewers can catch the action via GCN. The race starts at 12:30pm AEDT, but live coverage will begin at 2pm.
Who’s your pick to win the elite men’s race?
Follow the link for the full startlist.
This article was published before Friday’s Road Nationals criterium. Any relevant updates will be made after that race.