It’s that time already! The new road season kicks off next week at the 2024 Federation University RoadNats Ballarat.
What an iconic start to the summer of cycling: Australia’s best riders battle for the green-and-gold jersey on the roads we know and love.
After 21 years, though, this will be the last one in Ballarat before the Nationals move elsewhere. Expect huge crowds to line Mt Buninyong, roaring for our top pro cyclists.
Here’s what you should know about the 2024 Road Nationals in Ballarat.
The action begins with individual time trials around the Federation University Mt Helen campus.
The meat of the course is a long, straight, power section along Yankee Flat Road. However, seconds can be gained or lost through the corners of the university, and in the downhill twists of Fisken Road.
There’s a club-based team time trial, para-cycling and various age categories, but it ends with the Elite races on Thursday afternoon.
For the women (28.6km), Grace Brown (FDJ – SUEZ) will be the favourite to win her fourth career title. But she’ll face a challenge from an injury-recovered Sarah Gigante (AG Insurance – Soudal), the only rider to have beaten her in the last six years.
In the men’s race (37.5km), it will be hard to deny Luke Plapp (Team Jayco AlUla) his second title. With Rohan Dennis’ retirement and Jay Vine and Luke Durbridge not participating, Plapp looks set to lead the next generation of men against the clock.
Riders to watch:
Para-cyclists: Kieran Murphy/Michael Freiberg (B), Darren Hicks (C2), Grant Allen (H4), Emily Petricola (C4), Carol Cooke (T2)
Women: Grace Brown, Georgie Howe, Sarah Gigante, Georgia Baker
Men: Luke Plapp, Kelland O’Brien, Conor Leahy, Chris Harper
After the time trials, racing moves into the heart of Ballarat. The criteriums are a fan-favourite way to enjoy a Friday afternoon: park yourself at one of the many pubs or cafes lining Sturt Street and watch our fastest riders whiz by.
It’s rapid action in these crits: the 1.1km circuit keeps riders within view, and the uphill finish produces exhilarating sprint finales.
Expect Liv AlUla Jayco to control the women’s race (30 laps), using their numbers to set up a breakaway like they did last year with Amber Pate. In a bunch finish, the Aussie team can back Ruby Roseman-Gannon or Georgia Baker – but they’ll be taking chances against quality sprinters including Sophie Edwards (ARA Skip Capital) and Maeve Plouffe (Team dsm-firmenich PostNL).
In the men’s race, there’s a tantalising prospect of a sprint showdown between Caleb Ewan (Team Jayco AlUla) and Sam Welsford (Bora-Hansgrohe). Both are truly world-class, both will be on new teams, and both have won the criterium before – thrice in Ewan’s case. That’d be a duel to savour.
Riders to watch:
Women: Georgia Baker, Ruby Roseman-Gannon, Sophie Edwards, Maeve Plouffe, Josie Talbot
Men: Caleb Ewan, Sam Welsford, Jensen Plowright, Blake Quick
Saving the best for last, the weekend takes us to the nearby township of Buninyong for the road races, as well as the Gran Fondo for amateur cyclists.
Each lap starts in town and sends riders up the famous Mt Buninyong (2.85km, 5%). Fans will pack the top of the KOM/QOM, where the steepest pitches of 8% wear down the legs and provide a launchpad for a race-winning move.
There’s then a fast descent into Federation University, where the twist and turns can prove treacherous. After that, the downhill run back to Buninyong is fast. Here, with legs and lungs screaming, many a race has been won and lost by a surprise late attack.
It all culminates in the last kilometre on Warrenheip Street, a wide straight where the champion will be crowned.
Women (104km, 9 laps)
In the women’s race, expect a three-way battle between the major players.
Lidl-Trek proved the strongest team last year. They again bring defending champion Brodie Chapman, workhorse Lauretta Hanson and three-time winner Amanda Spratt, plus neo-pro Felicity Wilson-Haffenden. They’ll want to make the race hard, dropping the sprinters.
Then there’s Liv AlUla Jayco, who lack an out-and-out favourite but have numbers (five riders) and the motivation of being the home team. An easier race should suit their fast finishers Ruby Roseman-Gannon and Georgia Baker, whose task will be to survive the climbs.
Grace Brown (FDJ-SUEZ) is the other big name. She’s been runner-up for three years in a row. Arguably the strongest rider in the peloton, her weakness is a lack of teammates. She’ll need to play her cards smartly and hope for the big teams to squabble with each other, allowing her to go under the radar and snag that elusive victory.
Finally, Sarah Gigante is a wildcard after a couple of injury-plagued seasons. Her form is good and she’s been riding plenty of training k’s in Ballarat – let’s see if it pays off.
Men (185km, 16 laps)
The men’s race looks to be Team Jayco AlUla versus the rest.
The big question is whether their newest acquisition, Luke Plapp, can complete his hat-trick. Having won the last two editions without teammates, it’s hard to bet against him. Plapp will have luxurious support with the likes of Chris Harper, Kelland O’Brien and Michael Hepburn setting tempo, while star sprinters Caleb Ewan and Blake Quick give him every excuse not to take a turn.
Plapp himself has singled out James Whelan (Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team) as his biggest rival. The Victorian climber was second in 2022 – the last rider to be mowed down by a rampaging Plapp – and always arrives in Ballarat with exceptional form.
Also looking to spoil the show will be Simon Clarke (Israel-Premier Tech), last year’s runner-up and one of Australia’s best one-day racers. Matt Dinham (Team dsm-firmenich PostNL), Michael Storer (Tudor Pro Cycling Team) and the six-strong domestic Team Bridgelane will also spice up the race.
Riders to watch:
Para-cyclists: Darren Hicks (C2), Rhys Tappenden (H2), Stuart Jones (T2), Meg Lemon (C4)
Women: Grace Brown, Amanda Spratt, Brodie Chapman, Sarah Gigante, Emily Watts
Men: Luke Plapp, Caleb Ewan, Simon Clarke, James Whelan, Matthew Dinham
How to watch in Ballarat
If you have the chance, you’ll want to head to Ballarat to experience the last Road Nationals there in person.
For the time trials, wander around Federation University for fun vantage points. Or, set yourself up near the start-finish intersection, where you’ll see riders come from three different directions.
The criteriums ramp up the excitement with the drama of bunch racing. Plonk yourself at a bar or café alongside Sturt Street – balcony views if you can get them – and spend a perfect evening soaking up all the action.
Saturday and Sunday are all about the road races (and you can still sign up to ride the Gran Fondo!).
The start-finish in Buninyong is a key location, but on Sunday, you’ll definitely want to take the free shuttle bus up the mountain to the GWM Go With More Chillout Zone, where the race will be on the big screen and the crowds will be immense. For more information, click here.
For those unable to make it to Ballarat, you can watch the criteriums and road races live on SBS. In addition, head to AusCycling YouTube for daily highlights.
Friday, January 5
Criteriums (Elite & U23 Women and Elite Men)
Live streaming on SBS On Demand
Saturday, January 6
Road Race (U23 Men)
Live streaming on SBS On Demand
Sunday, January 7
Road Race (Elite & U23 Women)
Road Race (Elite Men)
Live on SBS, SBS On Demand and Fox Sports
Start lists and results
Click the button below for start lists and results: