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Aussie summer continues with Herald Sun Tour

Mitchelton-Scott starting as favorites in both men’s and women’s races.

Cycling’s “Aussie summer” continues this week with the Jayco Herald Sun Tour (February 5-9).

The 67th edition of the men’s race is an Australian standard, featuring five stages and four WorldTour teams. The women’s race, now in its second edition, features two days of racing.

In the women’s race, Lucy Kennedy (Mitchelton-Scott) returns to defend her 2019 title. TIBCO-SVB, Astana and Alé BTC might have something to say about that, the leading teams in a deep field with many of Australia’s top teams lining up.

Kennedy will be short-handed, as only four Mitchelton-Scott riders will race. Three others — Georgia Williams, Grace Brown and Jessica Allen — are recovering from injuries after being caught up in a massive crash during Sunday’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.

The two-stage race should see the first stage ending in a mass gallop, while the second stage ends atop Falls Creek.

“For me it’s about staying safe and conserving energy,” Kennedy said of stage 1. “Then the second stage is really interesting. We start with a 30km descent, basically go down the hill, do a loop and then back up the climb. It’s a pretty unusual stage. I‘ve ridden the climb, it’s not a super hard climb but it’s obviously really long and there’s going to be huge time gaps.”

On the men’s side, after Dylan van Baarle’s victory last year, defending champion Ineos is not sending a team. There was some consideration that the Sun Tour could be Chris Froome’s first race back from injury, but complications from his recovery mean that Froome will make his season debut at the UAE Tour instead. Ineos finished its Aussie leg of racing with second with Pavel Sivakov at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in Geelong.

Lining up to race the men’s edition February 5-9 is Israel Start-Up Nation, Mitchelton-Scott, EF Pro Cycling and Sunweb.

Pre-race favorites include Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Neilson Powless (EF Pro Cycling), Rob Power (Sunweb) and James Piccoli (Israel Start-Up Nation). Aevolo also brings a team to race against the top Australian squads.

“Our goal is to continue the developmental work we’ve done with our young sprinters and GC guys,” said Sunweb director Luke Roberts. “Our three Australians Jai, Rob and Michael will be the guys up there fighting for us.”

Stages 1 and 5 are well suited for the sprinters, while the race is typically decided in the hills. Hilltop finales at Stage 2 at Falls Creek and stage 4 at Mount Buller will all but crown the winner. Stage 3 features some lumpy terrain to liven up the race.

“I think the Mt. Buller stage is the most crucial,” said Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt Wilson. “It’s a hard climb, and suits Simon a lot more.”

The Jayco Herald Sun Tour is Australia’s oldest stage race, and often sees an Australian winner. Last year, the GC appeared to be a dogfight between Richie Porte and Michael Woods, but Ineos played a smart tactical card to push Dylan Van Baarle onto the top spot.

The race is set to start Wednesday despite a rash of bushfires in the region. Forecasts are calling for warm, but not excessive heat for the race.