Britain’s Team Sky are targeting early season success this weekend with a presence in the Australian National Road Championships road race which takes place at Mount Buninyong near Ballarat on Sunday.
Simon Gerrans will spearhead the team’s efforts to take the green-and-gold jersey, with new signing Michael Rogers acting as number two in a squad that also includes Chris Sutton, Mat Hayman and Britain’s Ben Swift, riding as a guest ahead of his participation in the Tour Down Under, which starts on 18 January.
The other two Team Sky riders due to ride in the Tour Down Under will be absent from this Sunday's race - Geraint Thomas is still in Britain, while Greg Henderson will be competing in his own national championships in New Zealand.
The 30-year-old Gerrans is in excellent form at the moment, having taken the sprints jersey in last week’s Jayco Bay Classic Series of criteriums, in which Matt Goss of HTColumbia won the overall.
The Australian national title, however, has so far eluded him, a fourth place finish in 2004 being his best effort, although previously he had won the under-23 version of the event.
“I’ve had some good times and bad times at Mt. Buninyong,” Gerrans told Cycling Australia.
“I would love to win an Australian open road championship,” he continued. “It is a race that has eluded me for the past few years.
“I think every Aussie would like to win it, but it’s such a tough race.”
The race takes in 16 laps of a 10.2km circuit and Gerrans has been training in the mountains near his parents home to help get into the right condition for the race.
“I have been working pretty hard on the road but you never know what’s going to happen at Buninyong,” he explained. “The race may unfold not in your favor in the form of an early breakaway and then you’ve just got to deal with it as best you can.”
Gerrans, who is one of a select group of cyclists to have won a stage in each of the Tour de France, Vuelta and Giro d’Italia, the former while riding for Crédit Agricole, the latter two with Cervélo TestTeam, said of his career achievements to date: “It’s pretty satisfying but you take it in your stride. It’s not something you think about all the time. I hope there’s a bit left in me yet.”
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald about the race, Rogers, who has joined Team Sky from HTC-Columbia, said: “It's the best field ever.
''Simon is in pretty good shape and we have a few guys who can support him.
''We are in with a great chance to win.''
Gerrans may be the nominated rider and Rogers his alternate, but with Australia set to lose the Ashes series by a crushing margin on home soil, we’d be interested to see what effect an unexpected victory on Sunday by Yorkshireman Swift would have on the country’s sporting psyche…
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.