Jayco Herald Sun Tour 2020 preview

Lucy Kennedy, Mitchelton-Scott, Herald Sun Tour

Credit: Con Chronis / Jayco Herald Sun Tour

A journey through the northern, fire-ravaged regions of Victoria is what awaits riders for the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.

The Course

The 2020 Jayco Herald Sun Tour is one that will see a climber crowned as champion of the men’s and women’s race, with the mountain-top stage finishes to Falls Creek in the women’s and Falls Creek and Mt Buller for the men’s race. Scott McGrory, race director for the men’s event, took Australian Cycling Insider through the course.

“It’s so good to have have two of Australia’s iconic cycling climbs in Mt Buller and Falls Creek,” said McGrory. “I raced up Mt Buller quite a lot back in the days I raced the Herald Sun Tour, some years I’d drag my track cycling physique up there ok and others I’d really struggle, it’s that sort of climb. On the other hand the other three stages are a lot easier, so it gives those opportunities for a range of riders.”

Stage 1 – Mens – 121.9km Nagambie to Shepparton, Womens – 94km Shepparton to Shepparton

 “The first stage will be quite challenging if it’s windy and open to echelons and smaller groups,” said McGrory. “It should be for the sprinters as there are no hills, but if it’s crosswindy, the sprinters will have to be on their game and fight for position.”

The women’s stage looks even more of a nailed-on sprint finish than the men’s race, with the very easy course around Shepparton not exposed to the same crosswind sections that the men’s race will see.

Stage 2 – Mens – 117.6km Beechworth to Falls Creek, Womens – 75.2km Falls Creek to Falls Creek

“The second stage really showcases the north region and alpine district through to Falls Creek,” said McGrory. “They are roads that Australian have raced on and trained, really a cycling Mecca.

“Falls Creek itself is very long but not a brutal climb, but still certainly one where you’ll need to turn up in good condition to keep yourself in the fight for the general classification.”

The women’s stage starts with the long descent from Falls Creek, an unconventional start to a race, and it will be interesting to see how the event is raced, with a number of climbers within the womens peloton regarded as among the weaker descenders. The winner of the stage will most likely be crowned the 2020 Jayco Herald Sun Tour winner.

Stage 3 – Mens – 178.1km Bright to Wangaratta

“The third stage is the jewel of the crown for that northern region,” said McGrory. “Bright is the destination for anyone who rides bikes no matter the discipline, elite racing to families. This is the stage that we built that could throw up anything.

“They go over Tawonga Gap early, but there’s still a long way to go, so any sprinters that get dropped early have a long way to get back in contention. Then there’s also Rosewhite Gap, not a hard climb in itself, but it will make it harder for any dropped riders to get back on.

“From there it’s flat into Wangaratta. It should be enough time for any sprinters to get back to contest the finish, but if any of the climbers really want to light it up and keep the pressure on, then it may be that a breakaway can stay to the finish.”

Stage 4 – Mens – 106.4km Mansfield to Mt Buller

“The second hilltop finish is at the end of Stage 4,” said McGrory. “It starts off with Mansfield Road, I first road this bit of tarmac as part of a charity ride a few years ago and I was blown away by how beautiful it is up to Tolmie, we’ll do that twice, including the descent of Old Tolmie Road, where the peloton will hit over 100 kilometres an hour.

Mt Buller rates as a 16 kilometre climb at 6 per cent, with the steepest pinches near the top of the ascent hitting a gradient of 13 per cent.

“Mt Buller has featured in the Herald Sun Tour so many times over the years,” said McGrory. “I think the race winner will be decided on Mt Buller, if not then whoever wins will need to be really close to the stage winner.

“It’s quite an enjoyable climb. If you can get into a good rhythm it’s such an even gradient most of the way up. Just before you get into the village it steepens up, a good spot for those final attacks if they’re still together. The riders won’t be doing it, but taking a look around while you’re up there is a good idea and I’m sure the pictures out of that stage will be great. Bring the light wheels and the climbing legs.”

Stage 5 – Mens – 89.1km Melbourne to Melbourne

“Then back to the city for the final stage around the Botanic Gardens, a successful stage from last year,” said McGrory. “It is for the sprinters, but it’s not necessarily a pure sprinter that wins it here. You have to really committed, strong sprinter to fight your way into the final time up the Anderson Street climb to be able to sprint for the finish.”

Kristoffer Halvorsen (Team INEOS) was the winner of the same stage last year, but punchy rider Dion Smith (Mitchelton-Scott) was up there in second, indicating how tough the course can be.

McGrory reflected on the changing nature of the race, after a sparkling edition in 2019 provided a number of stages with plenty of attacking panache on display.

“It certainly will be a lot different from the last edition of the race,” said McGrory, “but that’s the Herald Sun Tour, we go to different regions of Victoria each year and this is the terrain we get to feature. Attacking racing is mostly about how the riders decide to approach the race and I think particularly on Stage 3 we should see opportunities to go from long-range.”

The race holds a long history within Australia, with the 2020 edition being the 67th ever run. While it used to be the premier stage race in Australia, it now occupies a comfortable position as a UCI 2.1 rated race, allowing local Continental teams to mix in with the cream of the WorldTour peloton.

“It’s just about the only Australian race that offers the opportunity for the local Australian Continental teams to race against some proper, top-quality WorldTour opposition,” said McGrory. “That’s something that the Herald Sun Tour can uniquely offer.”

Riders to watch – Womens

Lucy Kennedy – Mitchelton-Scott

The defending champion will head into the race as the overwhelming favourite for the 2020 edition and make it two in a row. The towering Queenslander is the class climber in the field and even though she’s not on peak form at the moment, she did finish pretty close at the Deakin University Cadel’s race despite being held up behind the dramatic crash.

Sarah Gigante – TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank

The reigning national time trial champion showed at the recent Tour of Tasmania that she has the climbing legs to be competitive here. Few would begrudge the vivacious youngster a shot at the victory, though you would think that she would need to take yet another step in her development to beat Kennedy.

Justine Barrow – Roxsolt-Attaquer

The 40-year-old is the best climber in the National Road Series peloton and probably would have won the queen stage of the Tour of Tasmania, but let Gigante go ahead at the line as there were classification concerns at play. She’ll relish the chance to go up Falls Creek and it would be a surprise to not see her near the top of the standings.

Ruby Roseman-Gannon – ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast

It’s been a fantastic summer for the young sprinter. So much so that she’ll enter the first stage as the favourite after running close seconds to Chloe Hosking (Rally) in recent sprints. With Chloe Hosking absent, she’ll be the favourite on the flat first stage of Shepparton.

Mens – Riders to watch

Simon Yates – Mitchelton-Scott

The premier climber in the race… how many other riders present have won a Grand Tour? Showed enough form at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and the Tour Down Under to suggest that he’ll be the near unbackable favourite.

Jai Hindley – Team Sunweb

The last time the race went up Falls Creek, it was Damien Howson who took the win and Jai Hindley who finished a commendable second as member of the national team. A few years removed and a lot more experience under his belt, it seems that 2020 might be a breakout year for the West Australian and a good start would be a top showing at the Herald Sun Tour.

Kees Duyvesteyn- Team Bridgelane

The young New Zealand climber was Bridgelane’s main GC hope at the recent New Zealand Cycle Classic, but Rylee Field’s heroics to take the leader’s jersey overshadowed the tremendous quality of Duyvesteyn’s ride. He’s been cleaning up in New Zealand for a while now and gets a chance to put himself on display here.

Kaden Groves – Mitchelton-Scott

The Mitchelton-Scott neo-pro is just getting used to the elite ranks, but all signs indicate it’s not long before we see him convert his Asian Tour wins to WorldTour ones. Stages 1, 3 and 5 all look to very well suited to the Queenslander’s talents.

Alberto Dainese – Team Sunweb

The team also has Max Kanter present as well, but Daienese, 21, has shown plenty of zip in his appearances so far in Australia and without Caleb Ewan and Sam Bennett here, he’ll get the chance to convert his thirds and fifths to wins.

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Written by Jamie Finch-Penningeru