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BALLARAT, Australia — Orica-GreenEdge hopes to avoid its first shutout at the Cycling Australia Road National Championships when the elite men line up for the road race in Buningyong, Victoria on Sunday.
Australia’s first — and only — UCI WorldTour team is batting .000 on the top step, and has only secured a silver during the national criterium championship when last year’s under-23 winner — and neo-pro — Caleb Ewan finished a close second to reigning champion and former Garmin-Sharp rider Steele von Hoff (NFTO).
But team sport director Matt White is not concerned, and told VeloNews on Friday considering the level of competition and layout of the time trial course it’s to be expected.
“Yesterday’s results were no surprise,” White said. “I don’t think there is any time trial national championship in the world with that sort of depth.”
The quality of the time trial field White referred to consisted of four former U23 world champions, including Jack Bobridge (2009), Luke Durbridge (2011), Damien Howson (2013), and current title holder Campbell Flakemore of BMC Racing, as well as three-time world champion Michael Rogers (2003-05) and eventual race winner Richie Porte.
Even last year’s winner Michael Hepburn (Orica-GreenEdge) and runner up Rohan Dennis (BMC) — who finished second to Porte — were in the mix.
“I had Rohan Dennis as a favorite after driving the course for the first time just the day before the race,” White told VeloNews. “But when I saw the course and how much climbing there was on the way home I knew the race did not suit our guys.
“It was just too hilly of a course for Michael Hepburn and Luke Durbridge. Those guys are giving away 10-14kgs to Richie Porte.
“Plus, I said a couple of weeks ago that Porte would be the man to beat this summer in a lot of races, so it’s no surprise at all.”
Now facing possible gold medal elimination without the crutch of reigning two-time national champion Simon Gerrans, who is back in Monaco nursing a broken left collarbone sustained during a training ride accident aboard a mountain bike in late December, Orica is on the back foot forced to rely on one of eight riders to continue its home field dominance.
“At the end of the day our plan was always Simon Gerrans and if we didn’t like the scenario how the race was panning out, we could always shut the race down,” said White.
“Our tactics have definitely changed for the summer, but we have a few options and few wildcards for the weekend.”
White believes the race will be reminiscent of the 2012 edition that saw Gerrans take out the title over Matthew Lloyd and Richie Porte in an aggressive race that launched from the start.
“We’ve got numbers with eight riders on the start line and no team wants to be in the position where you have to chase,” said White of the 183.6-kilometer road race. “You can bring back big chunks of time quite quick but if you chase you can explode your riders quite quickly on that circuit.”
Two of the eight riders White may look toward stepping up on Sunday include last year’s Sun Tour winner Simon Clarke and former national criterium (2013) and two-time time trial champion (2010-11) Cameron Meyer.
Of the two, perhaps Meyer, a 2011 Tour Down Under winner and six-time world track cycling champion, is the best suited to get the nod over his teammate and 2012 Vuelta a España mountains classification winner.
“Cam really does love this circuit and he is motivated,” said White of last year’s Tour of Switzerland stage winner. “Our whole team is motivated.
“He wouldn’t be happy with his season in 2014.
“He’s had some ups and downs, but people forget he played a big part in last year’s race when he helped ‘Gerro’ reel Richie and [Cadel Evans] last year in that final lap.”
Regardless of the current shutout, for White and Orica it’s business as usual come Sunday. While the start of the UCI WorldTour season at the Tour Down Under remains the focus of the team, White said the nationals are still a priority.
“We are attacking the nationals like we would the TDU and the rest of the year,” he said. “Whether it’s Clarke or Meyer, we have three or four guys that are suited to that circuit, including 2013 champion Luke Durbridge.
“As far as Cam goes, like all of us, he would certainly be looking to start 2015 with a bang.”
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.