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Top cycling team wants more titles

  • Top cycling team wants more titles

The good news for rival cyclists is Orica-GreenEDGE will field their smallest contingent in the men's elite road race at the Australian championships.

The bad news is their team leader Simon Gerrans has a ferocious determination to put last year's horrors behind him and they are still formidable opposition.

Australia's only WorldTour team remain committed to do well at Ballarat's January 6-10 nationals, despite the notable changes to their roster in the off-season.

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After four successful years - including three national road race titles - Orica-GreenEDGE are trying to make the transition to a team that can contend in Grand Tours such as the Tour de France.

A side effect is that they will only have eight or nine starters in the elite men's road race on Sunday at Buninyong.

There have been some concerns at previous nationals that GreenEDGE were swamping the men's road race with sheer weight of numbers.

Team director Matt White noted that Michael Matthews (Europe training) and Rob Power (injury) are the only Australians in their squad not racing this week.

"We have just as much importance on the national championships as we've ever had," White said.

"All the Australian races mean a lot to us because we have a six-week window to race at home.

"We have Australian sponsors and a lot of interest - these are the only races we're doing in front of our (home) fans."

Orica-GreenEDGE and their women's team Orica-AIS have made an ideal start to the season, with Caleb Ewan and Gracie Elvin winning the Bay Classic criterium series.

Ewan is the man to beat on Wednesday night for the men's elite criterium title in Ballarat and Elvin will be among the favourites on Sunday morning in the women's road race.

Ewan also finished runner-up to Heinrich Haussler last year in the men's road race.

But Gerrans, a two-time winner at Buninyong, was missing with a broken collarbone.

That was the first of a succession of crashes that cruelled Gerrans' season.

Now Gerrans is fit and he badly wants a return to top form.

"He's definitely our plan A," White said.

"He's very reliable on that course, it's a course that suits his characteristics.

"We're going in with the least amount of numbers, with nine, but we have some other options and it's a very, very strong group this year."

Haussler will not start, but the nationals feature a host of big domestic names such as Rohan Dennis, Richie Porte, Adam Hansen, Peta Mullens and Rachel Neylan.

AAP rhv

THE CHAMPIONSHIPS SCHEDULE AND RIDERS TO WATCH

WEDNESDAY

Criteriums, Sturt St, Ballarat from 4.30pm

(Men's U23 33km, women's elite and U23 33km, men's elite 44km)

Kimberley Wells has won two of the last three women's titles and is the favourite again, but will face a strong challenge from Sarah Roy and her Orica-AIS teammates. Bay Classic winner Caleb Ewan and defending champion Steele Von Hoff are the riders to watch in the men's elite race.

THURSDAY

Individual time trials, Buninyong from 10.30

(Men's U23 29.3km, women's elite and U23 29.3km, men's elite 40.9km)

Shara Gillow has won four of the last five elite women's title, but Katrin Garfoot could challenge. Star BMC signing Richie Porte and new teammate Rohan Dennis, who was runner-up last year, headline the men's elite start list.

FRIDAY

rest day

SATURDAY

Men's U23 132.6km road race, Buninyong from 1pm

Miles Scotson will defend his title. Other riders to watch include Chris Hamilton, Daniel Fitter and para cycling star Alistair Donohoe.

SUNDAY

Women's elite and U23 102km road race (8am), men's elite 183.6km road race (noon), Buninyong

The women's road race has moved from Saturday in a bid to give it more exposure, meaning a packed Sunday schedule. Defending champion Peta Mullens will have her work cut out against a super-strong Orica-AIS contingent that includes two-time champion Gracie Elvin and Rachel Neylan. Two-time winner Simon Gerrans is determined to start the season well after his nightmare 2015. Stars such as Porte, Dennis, Adam Hansen and Simon Clarke are also in a strong men's elite field.

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