It’s been a minute since the Melbourne to Warrnambool, but the AusCycling National Road Series (NRS) kicks on this weekend at the Australian Unity Tour de Brisbane.
Far from the country lanes that make up much of the NRS, this is a uniquely urban course in the heart of Australia’s third-biggest city. Let’s take a look at Sunday’s race.
Sorry, night owls: it’s an early start. The men’s and women’s pelotons will roll out before 6:00am, just as the first rays of sun reach Brisbane’s tallest skyscrapers.
Neither race is particularly long: the men’s course is 102km, while the women will race 81km. Both will start from the Brisbane Showgrounds on the edge of the city centre.
In what could cheekily be called a ‘tour de freeway’, riders will take the Inner City Bypass, head west through the Legacy Way tunnel and down the Western Freeway before doing a U-turn and returning back the way they came.
After 30km of motorway racing, the men’s and women’s races diverge.
The men turn off the main road for two summits of Mt Coot-tha, Brisbane’s most popular lookout. They’ll use the harder ‘back’ climb, which features an initial 600-metre ramp before the climb proper, a twisting test of 2.2km at 9%. They’ll plummet down the ‘front’ before immediately looping around for the second ascent.
The women’s peloton, however, skips Mt Coot-tha altogether. The final 50km will be identical for men and women, beginning with another lap of the Western Freeway, a return trip up the Legacy Way and a new section headed east towards Brisbane Airport with an intermediate sprint along the Southern Cross Way.
After another U-turn and return along the motorway, riders will prepare for the final kilometre, which features three crucial corners. From the last corner, there are just 200 metres to the finish on King Street.
Last year, the men’s peloton climbed the easier side of Mt Coot-tha and finished in a reduced sprint. In 2021, it was a solo win for Sam Hill after a long-range move.
This year, there are over 50 kilometres between the final summit and the finish line, which leaves time for the peloton to regroup. The onus is on the strongest climbers to eliminate the sprinters on Coot-tha and hold them off in a mad dash along the freeway.
Without Mt Coot-tha, the women’s race is more than likely to finish in a sprint, but Brisbane’s motorways have more undulations than you’d think, including a QOM segment (1km at 4%) that will be tackled twice from each direction. It’s not much, but teams without a top sprinter can try to put pressure on these rises.
As always, Team BridgeLane line up with strength, including Warrny winner Tristan Saunders. However, Mt Coot-tha will favour a climber like Rhys Robotham, who finished fourth here in 2021. James Panizza also climbs well, while Zac Marriage has already proven he can win at NRS level. Bridgelane has multiple paths to victory and will look to go on the front foot.
ARA Skip Capital brings a younger squad including Brady Gilmore, last year’s runner-up. But their best chances may lie in a sprint for one of their fast men who are fresh from the Oceania and National Track Championships, principally Blake Agnoletto or Declan Trezise.
2021 winner Sam Hill (Onyva Racing) returns, but he hasn’t shown the blistering form of that standout season. He and teammate Lachlan Harrigan will need to take full advantage of the climb if they want to win.
CCACHE x Par Kup have a strong rouleur in Brendon Davids and Kurt Eather as a sprinting option. For Blackshaw Racing, look to Tom Chester in a potential sprint. Warrny podium-getters Brendon Green (Cycling Development Foundation) and Bailey McDonald (Criterion Racing) will also start in Brisbane full of confidence.
Given the flat parcours, it’s hard to look past Warrny winner Sophie Edwards (ARA Skip Capital) and her teammate Chloe Moran to win a bunch sprint. Moran in particular comes off an outstanding track campaign, having won the scratch race, points race and omnium at the Oceania Track Championships.
Team BridgeLane have enjoyed a remarkable start to 2023 and will aim to continue with Gina Ricardo and Emily Watts their best options on paper. There is no pressure on 17-year-old Felicity Wilson-Haffenden, but this will also be a chance to see what the dual junior national champion can do at this level.
For DRG Knights Liv, Ella Sibley and Courtney Sherwell looked good in Warrnambool, and while a win would be remarkable, the podium is within reach.
Other contenders in a sprint include Lucie Fityus (Cycling Development Foundation) and Matilda Raynolds, riding as an individual.
You’ll be able to watch the Tour de Brisbane NRS races live on SBS On Demand.
Tour de Brisbane, NRS Men & Women
Sunday, April 2
LIVE on SBS On Demand
Tune in on Saturday for the Oceania Road Race Championships from Mount Crosby in Brisbane’s west.
Oceania Road Race Championships, Elite Men & Women
Saturday, April 1
From 8:30am AEST
LIVE on AusCycling YouTube
If you're in Brisbane, head down to King Street on Friday evening to watch the ALÉ King St Kick It street criterium.