Michael Matthews may not have ridden the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race before, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t coming into the race with good memories and high hopes.
Geelong, and the challenging Challambra Crescent climb, which is a key feature of Sunday’s 176km race, were where he netted one of his biggest early career triumphs in 2010 when he took the U23 men’s world title.
Australia’s only WorldTour team, Jayco AlUla more often than not walks away from the Australian summer having made the most of its home-ground advantage by taking either the Tour Down Under the overall title, the national road title, or both. This year, however, even though it bought the strongest of teams, it has neither. A stage win and second place overall in South Australia from Simon Yates was some consolation but an ill-timed chain drop that sent the well-placed Matthews out of contention was hard to swallow.
Now the team is left with one last chance in the 2023 Australian summer season and it’s at a race where it has never run before – but it is also a race where they have never had Matthews before.
“The plan is to win,” Matthews told a pre-race media conference in Geelong. “We are here with a great strong team. Obviously for us, being the Aussie WorldTour team, we are here with our A team to deliver on Sunday.”
“It is a race we were all looking forward to, especially for me with the memories I have here. But a lot of our guys have raced here before so they know what we are in for.”
The Australian WorldTour team has stepped onto the podium of the race a number of times before but with a now retired Simon Gerrans, along with Simon Clarke and Daryl Impey, who are both lining up as rivals with Israel-Premier Tech.
Yates, who will be lining up for his second outing at the race after having taken tenth in 2020, will be valuable to latch on to any moves that are made on the climbs, while it is Matthews the team will want to have at the front if it comes to the end with a select group.
The crucial climb of Challambra Crescent is on the finishing loop, which is just under 17km long and the elite men tackle four times. The climb in suburban Geelong comes a little short of the halfway point of the circuit, delivering a one-kilometre-long sting averaging 10% but with a maximum gradient of 22%.
“I did it four times yesterday in my training and it is probably just under 3 minutes from bottom to top – first climb, full gas so that’s going to create some fireworks…
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