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56th Jayco Herald Sun Tour - 2.1
Australia, October 14-21, 2007
By John Trevorrow
Last year's Jayco Herald Sun Tour provided the most exciting finish in its 55 year history, but already this year's event is shaping up to challenge that. The quality of the field should ensure that breakaways won't be given too much latitude and, even in the toughest stages, the winning gaps are likely to be minimal.
As was the case in 2006, it's likely this race will still be in the balance when the Tour arrives in Melbourne for the final weekend. And what a weekend it will be, with thousands of recreational cyclists doing the annual Around the Bay in a Day on hand to witness a thrilling finale.
Although there is a strong international presence, a strong local contingent will be able to answer the globe trotter's strength, with Discovery Channel's Trent Lowe, riding for the Jayco Australian National Team, hot favourite for the overall classification. Lowe rode brilliantly as a domestique for Cadel Evans in the recent world championships and Evans was full of praise for the diminutive climber. The former junior mountain bike world champion finished sixth in last year's Tour and the big day up to Falls creek should be right up his alley.
The Jayco Australian National Team is being managed by Victorian Institute of Sport coach Dave Sanders, who is one of the best tacticians in the bike game. "He's good," Sanders said of Lowe earlier this week. "He can climb and he can time-trial, but this is going to be a tough race for anyone to dominate. This is a classy field and it's going to take six days of solid riding and concentration to win this one."
Another huge bonus for Lowe is the quality of his team, with the 23 year-old being supported on the road by probably the highest-profile domestique of all time - Stuart O'Grady. "There's nothing Stuey hasn't done, so I'm looking forward to learning from his experiences," Lowe said. The event will be O'Grady's first competitive ride since suffering horrendous injuries in a heavy fall during July's Tour de France.
"I am just looking forward to strapping on that number and getting into it," O'Grady said. "I reckon I may struggle a bit in the first criterium and early on in the road stages because I just haven't done any intensity. But I reckon I should be okay once we get into it. I must admit I'm not looking forward to the big climbs though."
Sanders was amazed that O'Grady was even lining up this week. "I am gob smacked that Stuart can come back so quickly," Sanders said. "It's only three months since he broke eight ribs, a shoulder, a collarbone, three vertebrae, as well as puncturing a lung. And then I hear he had a blood clot on the brain.
"A normal human would be just getting out of hospital," Sanders added. "But there is little that's normal about Stuart O'Grady. I am just rapt to have him in the team and will enjoy every day of it. He has a special aura about him that will permeate through this team."
But don't discount another home grown favourite, Baden Cooke. Known primarily around the world as an elite road sprinter, the Unibet.com rider is also one of the toughest men to ever ride a bike. Some tour experts feel that Cooke may struggle up the joint climbs of Tawonga Gap and Falls Creek, but those same pundits should remember back to 2002 when Cooke rose to the challenge on the steepest climb in Australian racing, Mt Baw Baw. It was also Cooke who put an end to the 15 year dominance of overseas winners at the Sun Tour in 2002.
Cooke only returned home on Wednesday after another tough and frustrating season in Europe. "I've been a bit crook for the past 10 days," he revealed. "I had my last race in Belgium the week before last and it was 200 km in the pouring rain. I've been struggling a bit ever since.
"Today [Thursday] I did three hours and I felt okay," he added. "I reckon I could struggle for the first couple of days but hopefully I can ride myself back into a bit of form.
Cooke, who will join Professional Continental squad Barloworld in 2008, is clear of his intension for the Sun Tour. "I have come home with the intention of winning another Jayco Herald Sun Tour but I guess I'll have to wait a few days to see if that is still a realistic option," he said. "I've got a strong team and whatever happens I plan to make my presence felt." He will have the support of countryman Matthew Wilson as well as Great Britain's Jeremy Hunt and Frenchman Jimmy Casper.
One interesting rivalry that could take place during the tour is that between the Sulzberger brothers. The Tasmanian pair have both been on form in recent weeks, with DFL-Cyclingnews-Litespeed's Bernard Sulzberger taking third in the Tour of Tasmania while SouthAustralia.com-AIS' Wesley Sulzberger has just returned from Germany where he claimed the silver medal in the Under 23 Men's road race at the UCI World Road Championships. After a string of strong stage results in his home tour Bernard will be keen to go head-to-head with his younger sibling, who is one of the strongest sprinters on this year's start list.
The Australians will be kept honest by a strong international contingent which includes a powerful roster from the Astana ProTour squad. Professional Continental team Wiesenhof-Felt, which is riding one of its last races with the German squad closing its doors at season's end, is also a force to be reckoned with, with Jorg Ludewig likely to put in a strong showing.
Riders will be kept on their toes in the event's opening and closing criteriums, with Benjamin Jacques-Maynes (Bissell-Priority Health) and Dominique Rollin (Bicycle Superstore Canada National Team) making the trip down from the criterium capital of North America. Rollin could also be a presence in the road stages, with the former Canadian road champion having shown his strength at the FBD Insurance Rás in Ireland, where he took three stage wins in May.
Cyclingnews will feature reigning Jayco Herald Sun Tour winner Simon Gerrans, who isn't returning to the event in 2007 to defend his title, in the lead up to Saturday's opening stage.