Three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome (Sky) will again begin his season in Australia, lining up at two Victorian races in early 2017.
Froome will take part in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race on Sunday January 29 — his first time at the one-day race — before returning to the Jayco Herald Sun Tour (February 1-5) as defending champion.
Froome began his 2016 season at the Sun Tour and won the race overall with a solo victory on the final stage summit finish at Arthurs Seat. Starting his season in Australia worked well for Froome, with the Kenyan-born Briton going on to win his third Tour de France later in the year.
“I love riding in Australia. The weather is great and the crowds always come out in force to support the riders. That makes it all the more enjoyable,” Froome told the Herald Sun. “It’s always tough racing and a really strong, competitive field — so it’s an ideal way for me to kick off my year.
“I took a similar approach last year and felt it was a great way to set up my season.”
Froome’s attendance at the two Victorian races comes a week after Orica-BikeExchange revealed that Esteban Chaves will start his 2017 season in Australia. The 26-year-old Colombian, who in 2016 won Il Lombardia and finished on the podium at both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana, is set to race the Santos Tour Down Under (January 15-22), Cadel’s Race and the Sun Tour.
The 2017 Sun Tour
The Sun Tour in particular is shaping up as a thrilling contest with Chaves and Froome set to headline and organisers today revealing an exciting new course. The race will again begin with a 2.1km prologue time trial in the heart of Melbourne, before making the trek to north-east Victoria for stage 1.
Starting in the rural centre of Wangaratta, the stage will go over the popular Tawonga Gap climb, before finishing with a 26km ascent towards Falls Creek. The stage will end 3.8km shy of the village — at the Howman’s Gap tollbooth — to avoid the steeper final section to the resort.
“Originally we looked at not going up any of the major mountains, but when you suddenly have two of the world’s greatest climbers, you’ve got to put a platform for them,” said race director John Trevorrow. “And Falls [Creek] is perfect I think because if you went over [Mount] Hotham or [Mount] Buffalo — a steeper climb — it would really decimate the field.
“This way, even though everyone’s only talking about two bike riders, I believe there’ll be more still in the mix after the first day.”
Stage 2 starts in Mount Beauty and features a tough 10km climb to Stanley, before finishing with a rolling 9km descent into Beechworth. Stage 3 will be the only chance for the sprinters, with a largely flat day starting in Benalla and finishing inside the Mitchelton Winery.
The Sun Tour’s popular race-ending summit finish at Arthurs Seat is gone in 2017 and will be replaced with a circuit around the town of Kinglake.
“They’ve got enormous new infrastructure there [at Arthurs Seat] with the chairlift, which I’m sure will be great for the area,” Trevorrow said. “But when our planning was all going in there was a lot of uncertainty about road closures. It was just very hard.
“In reality, we’ve been there [Arthurs Seat] quite a few years and what we do is … this race moves around. So I’m quite excited about Kinglake — I think we will get a huge crowd and it will be a wonderful day.”
Starting in Kinglake, the stage will comprise four laps of a 30km circuit which includes a long descent out of Kinglake and a 5km climb on Kinglake-Glenburn Road which peaks 2.5km from the finish line.
The main climb from St. Andrews — one of Melbourne’s most popular training climbs — won’t be used in the race and will instead be kept free for fans to access Kinglake.