The final Grand Tour of the cycling season begins tonight with the 2020 edition of the Vuelta España.
Nobody has ever won the Tour Down Under, Herald-Sun Tour and national road race championship in the same year. Simon Gerrans could be the first.
The relocation of Victoria’s premier race on the calendar and its upgraded status on the UCI points table means the stars have aligned for Gerrans to achieve an unprecedented treble.
A handful of riders have won the Sun Tour (as it was known for most of its life) and the national title in the same year, but there was no Tour Down Under at the time.
The great Russell Mockridge was the first to achieve this double, winning the Sun Tour and the national title in 1957.
Barry Waddell won the double twice, in 1964 and 1968. Graeme McVilly (1971), Peter Besanko (1976), John Trevorrow (1979), Clyde Sefton (1981) all achieved it.
But in the last 33 years, nobody has won the Sun Tour/national title double. Gerrans won the national title and the TDU in 2012, but the Sun Tour wasn’t held that year as it was shifted to January 2013.
That Gerrans could ‘do the double’ would be exciting enough, but his scintillating victory in the Tour Down Under means he has a golden opportunity to achieve something entirely new.
This would not be possible if the race was still held in its former position in October, or in early January as it was in 2013, when it was used as a last-minute pre-Nationals tune-up by a number of World Tour riders, Gerrans included.
Perhaps more importantly, the race has now gained UCI 2.1 status, meaning it’s open to WorldTour, Pro Continental, Continental, and national teams, and has the same status (in the eyes of the UCI) as the Tour of Britain, Volta ao Algarve, Tour of Utah, or Tour de San Luis.
The standard and depth of the race has therefore increased from the recent past.
The race having UCI 2.1 status means Gerrans is riding for his formidable Orica-GreenEDGE team, rather than the composite national team he rode for last year.
The usual team tactics, clear leadership, and the obvious strength of his squad (Cameron Meyer, Simon Clarke, Matt Goss, Mitch Docker and Damien Howson) puts Gerrans at a distinct advantage, yet again.
However, Orica-GreenEDGEis not the only World Tour squad in the mix.
Garmin-Sharp and Cannondale are also here.
Garmin’s 2011 winner Nathan Haas is back, and looked in great form in the Tour Down Under, as did histeammate Steele Von Hoff. Cannondale bring local rider Cameron Wurf, and teenage prodigy Matej Mohoric.
Pro Continental teams Drapac and United Healthcare (one of the top teams on the US pro circuit) will also ride aggressively.
This is effectively Drapac’s home race, with the team based in Melbourne, and if the team’s front-foot style from the national championships and TDU is any guide, they will figure heavily this week.
Composite national squads from Australia, Great Britain and New Zealand provide an opportunity for riders whose teams aren’t entered here.
The late inclusions of 2013 winner Calvin Watson, and classy climber Matthew Lloyd, in the Korda-Mentha Australia team, are perfect examples of what these squads can bring.
Then there are the Continental squads: Avanti, African Wildlife Safaris, Budget Forklifts, Synergy Baku, Rapha Condor JLT, OCBC Singapore, and Terengganu (Malaysia).
You would be mad to discount the local continental squads, many of whom know these roads better than Chris Froome knows his stem.
If you take a look through the start list for this race, you’ll find between them they own the Strava KOMs of just about every noteworthy climb around Melbourne.
Despite all this, the biggest challenger to Simon Gerrans seems to be himself.
The question is: has his focus already shifted to the spring classics and in particular Milan-San Remo?
Gerrans has been in amazing shape for four weeks already. If he can hold it for five more days he stands to achieve arguably the greatest feat of cycling on Australian soil.
Would anyone bet against him?