Copyright: Con Chronis and Ernesto Arriagada / Cycling Australia

Article submitted by twitter user @cyclingbolar 

January is here, which means one thing. Hot Australian racing.

Looking at the start list of the Nationals, you can’t help but feel that it is going to be a wide open race.

We look at Mitchelton-Scott. They again should dominate the race and have a big say in who wins. Defending champion Alex Edmondson will be looking to go back to back but they have other riders capable of taking the win. 2013 winner Luke Durbridge, 2012 Under 23 winner Michael Hepburn and Cameron Meyer, second in 2016, can all take victory here. Lucas Hamilton is a chance too as well as 2017 Herald Sun Tour winner Damien Howson. Then you have Nick Schultz, Matthew Hayman, Callum Scotson and Robert Stannard. Of that quartet, I’d say Schultz would be the most likely.

So who can challenge this team?

A team that could follow all the moves later in the race is Team Sunweb with 2016 Under 23 winner Chris Hamilton their likely winner. He will have help from Jai Hindley as well as Michael Storer.

Another team with a strong contingent is EF Education First. Lachlan Morton will be their leader and will have support from Mitchell Docker and James Whelan.

Domestic team, Bridgelane, which came about via a merger between Avanti and Mobius Bridgelane has Chris Harper as leader. Harper was third last year. Neil Van Der Ploeg will be a key man for him and Dylan Sunderland cannot be underestimated either.

Sam Crome and Robbie Hucker who formerly rode for Avanti and were team-mates in 2017 are an underdog duo. Currently riding for Team UKYO, they can be a powerful unit with Crome being a top finisher last year and also won the final stage of the Herald Sun Tour. He is a nice outsider for the race.

Jay McCarthy (Bora Hansgrohe) was second last year and made up a powerful sprint to grab second. Nathan Haas (Katusha Alpecin) also came top five and was third in 2017. 2017 winner Miles Scotson (Groupama-FDJ), Cyrus Monk (EvoPro Racing), 2015 winner Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain-Merida) are all in the same boat as McCarthy and Haas in having no team-mates to help. They will find it tough, but not impossible. McCarthy and Haas are both class riders and Haussler is in brilliant shape at the moment and very motivated to win again.

Another rider who fits in that same category is Team Dimension Data’s Ben O’Connor. O’Connor rose in 2017 with impressive riding, particulary in the Giro d’Italia. He was sitting 12th on GC after stage 18, but unfortunately had to abandon the race on stage 19. Before that, he was 7th overall in the Tour of the Alps with victory on stage 3 which was a mountainous stage. Should he bring that form here, and by all reports he is looking good, then he has the ability to ride away from everyone on the final lap.

I am going to put it out there now that Caleb Ewan won’t figure in the finish at all. Last year he had a team to bring it back for him. This year all he has is Adam Hansen and despite being strong, Hansen won’t be able to set it up for him in the dying stages all on his own.

Mark O’Brien (top 10 last year), Nathan Elliott and Tom Robinson can all feature, with the latter two having great domestic seasons the last couple of years.

Tactics

As for the tactics for the race. This is why it is open. It is hard to call. Are Mobius Bridgelane strong enough to bring the race back? They would need help. I pose the question because if I were Mitchelton Scott’s DS, I would try and get 2-3 riders sent up the road. With no team as strong as BMC the last couple of years to set the pace in the peloton to bring it back as well as Mitchelton Scott when setting up victory for Ewan, there is a possibility someone from the early break may hold on like Jack Bobridge (2016), Luke Durbridge (2013) and Travis Meyer (2010) have shown.

Cameron Meyer is in great shape at the moment and did a lot of work for Ewan last year and was probably the strongest in the race. He may go in the early break with Luke Durbridge with Durbridge powering it, leaving the likes of Edmondson, Howson and Hamilton waiting in case the race comes back.

If it does come back then Mitchelton Scott have the power in numbers to attack one after another and it will come down to whover can follow wheels. In that situation, I think Ben O’Connor is the one rider to look out for. As mentioned earlier, if in form, he can solo away from the field, regardless of who Mitchelton Scott have there at the end.

I believe no team will be able to take up the mantle that BMC and EF Education Drapac have done in previous years and that someone from the early break will win.

Riders that I am backing are as follows. One set for the early break and one set if it comes back.
Early Break

Cameron Meyer ($17) – Can win from the break or if the race comes back.
Luke Durbridge ($26)
Damien Howson ($101)
Michael Hepburn ($101)

If the race comes back

Ben O’Connor ($51)
Chris Hamilton ($41)
Luke Hamilton ($41)

As for my prediction. I am going with Cameron Meyer from the early break. He seems to be in top form at the moment and he really wants this title.