Jayco-Alula are used to fighting the super teams of the WorldTour, whose stacked rosters make it almost impossible for their rivals to get a look in, but on home roads at the Tour Down Under, the Australian outfit looks like the team to beat.
The five Australians on the roster – Caleb Ewan, Luke Plapp, Chris Harper, Michael Hepburn and Kelland O’Brien – have just delivered a clean sweep of the national titles, as well as of the time trial and road race podiums. They are joined by Campbell Stewart of New Zealand and Simon Yates, who came second at the event last year, though, the Briton did wonder if he was even needed this time.
“Everybody looks in really good shape,” Yates told Cyclingnews on Monday. “As I was arriving, coming in on the plane, I opened up my phone to see what was going on in the Nationals. Caleb had already won the criterium Nationals and Plappy had already won the TT and I turned the TV on and just saw Harper and Plappy there with 4 and a half minutes gap, at one point it went even further out.
“I was questioning whether I even needed to arrive – these guys are in such good condition that I thought ‘oh well these guys have got it covered.'”
Plapp is in flying form, having trained in the heat on the climbs of Bright while staying in a sponsor-correct Jayco caravan on his bush block. At a team media event in a Jayco showroom, he jokingly put all his success down to the caravan. His race readiness, too, can hardly be doubted after dual national titles, but he was quick to make the team hierarchy clear.
“Yates is here for a reason, he got second last year and this course even suits him better, having Willunga, so I’d love to play a part in helping him succeed and win the race and then see how I can fare in that as well,” said Plapp. “I’d love to be up there too, but at the end of the day we are here to win, so as long one of us is wearing the ochre jersey at the end of the week that would be the goal.”
Jayco have a range of options to make that happen, with Harper also a clear stand-out after his second places in the time trial and road race, and that leaves the team with pressure to deliver. As Yates pointed out, however, the lone Australian WorldTour team always has pressure at the Tour Down Under, no matter who is in the line-up.
“This race is one of those races for us, it is so important there is no escaping it,” said Yates. “But you take that away and you just go to myself personally, I am actually coming in more relaxed,…