Team Sky rider Pete Kennaugh is defending champion for the 2017 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
Team Sky rider Pete Kennaugh is defending champion for the 2017 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. Supplied CEGORR

Howard on fire for Cadel

RUNNER-UP of the 2016 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, Leigh Howard, said he's mentally prepared to ride his heart out with new team Aqua Blue Sport in his hometown Geelong this weekend.

Speaking exclusively from Adelaide where he was waiting to board a plane to Melbourne, Howard who recently joined the new Irish continental team, said he's looking forward to his first event of the season.

"While I'm better prepared mentally than I was last year, Aqua Blue is a new team and we did not compete in the Tour Down Under,” he said.

"Physically I'm not so sure as I've been training in Europe in cold weather. We will be on the offensive if it comes down to a sprint and I should be the protected rider.”

Now the event which was elevated to a 1.HC classification to World Tour status in 2016 will be even harder, Howard said.

"There will be some high quality riders, so we'll have to see,” he said.

Howard who led the 2016 but endured a broken-hearted finish when UK rider Peter Kennaugh sped by to finish in 4.04:59, a mere six second faster, is predicted by former cycling great John Trevorrow to be one to watch.

He said Howard might be under the radar this year but those in the know will look beyond the seemingly unbeatable British riders.

"Leigh Howard (Aqua Blue Sport) still hurting from not winning last year, he felt this was a lost opportunity,” he said of the Australian now riding for the Irish continental racing team.

"So he will be raring to go.”

Trevorrow said Amanda Spratt has form in the women's race.

"It's the perfect course for her,” he said.

"But it's a true international and world-class event, so there's plenty of competition.”

Trevorrow said while teams Orica-Scott and Sky are the key riders to beat in the men's event, there are many other quality cyclists prepared to put in the blood, sweat and tears to claim the winner's jersey.

He said some gun cyclists will set a searing pace as field of world class male and female riders have been confirmed for the 2017 event.

Australia Day sees the third edition of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, with the 2017 event hosting WorldTour status for the men and an additional live broadcast for the Deakin Elite Women's Race.

Raced on a challenging and authentic one-day course, the CEGORR allows an attacking style of race, synonymous with the European 'Spring Classics', which has fans on the edge of their seats until the winner crossed the finish line.

According to former cycling great and Herald Sun Tour organiser, John Trevorrow, the defending champions will have a tough time from podium-hungry competitors.

Men's event

Winner of the 2017 Tour Down Under, dual Paris-Nice winner and Australia's leading Grand Tour contender Richie Porte, will lead BMC fresh from his success in South Australia.

He will be joined by Swiss star Danilo Wyss and newly crowned Australian champion Miles Scotson and will start the race on Sunday as the favourite in the 174km UCI WorldTour race.

Team Sky (GBR) is aiming to defend the title claimed by Peter Kennaugh in 2016 and he will be backed by classics specialists Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe will add firepower for a strong team that also possessors three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome.

Big names lining up from ORICA-SCOTT include Il Lombardia winner Esteban Chaves and Australia's leading one-day rider and dual national champion Simon Gerrans.

Meanwhile, gutsy riders Nathan Haas (Dimension Data) and Jay McCarthy (Bora Hansgrohe) cannot be under estimated after battling it out for the Tour Down Under podium last week.

Women

The 113km women's event will see Australia's top team Orica-Scott start the Deakin Elite Women's Race as odds-on favourites with defending champion Amanda Spratt the rider with the target on her back.

Orica-Scott are firing on all cylinders after they claimed all three national titles and the Santos Women's Tour .

Spratt, who took the silver medal at the women's road race at the national championships and won the Santos Women's Tour is joined by team-mate Katrin Garfoot who claimed the road race and time trial double at the Australian championships and the pair will be hard to match on Saturday.

However, Janneke Ensing (Ale Cippollini) was impressive in Adelaide, finishing second to Spratt in the overall standings and will have the full support of her team, whilst the strength of former time trial world champion Lisa Brennauer can never be overlooked.

Cross winds are always a huge factor in this event, so if Victoria's weather cooperates and racing allows a bunch sprint to eventuate, there's some big names to contest. Kirsten Wild (Cyclance Pro Cycling) would start as the favourite in that scenario following her two wins in Adelaide. Australians Annette Edmondson (Wiggle High5) and Chloe Hosking (Ale Cippollini) would also come to the fore.



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