The new year is nearly upon us, and with it, a brand-new road season. The action starts as early as January 3 with the Federation University Road National Championships in Ballarat.
RoadNats is a fitting way to begin the year: we crown the champions who will wear the green-and-gold jersey for the next 12 months. It’s a glittering prize every Australian cyclist yearns for.
It’ll also be your chance to see riders racing for their new teams, in new kit, with the season’s latest equipment.
With that said, here are 10 riders to keep your eyes on during these national championships.
1. Amanda Spratt
You don’t win three national titles by luck! More than anyone in the peloton, Spratty knows how to conquer the Buninyong road course, having won in 2012, 2016 and 2020. Doing the maths, she’s due for another victory, right?
We’ve not yet seen her teammate, defending champion Brodie Chapman, on the start list. But the Sydney climber will have the capable Lauretta Hanson by her side, plus debutant Felicity Wilson-Haffenden.
2. Grace Brown
31, FDJ – SUEZ
Always the bridesmaid in the road race, will this be the year she conquers? Amazingly, Grace Brown has been the runner-up in Buninyong for the last three years in a row. She’s also won bronze twice.
Without teammates, Brown’s best path to victory will be to play off the big teams against each other. She’ll hope that Lidl-Trek and Liv AlUla Jayco will squabble amongst themselves and leave the door open.
Whatever happens on the Sunday, she’s a near-certainty to win a fourth elite time trial title on the Thursday. It’s worth turning up just to see her in full aero mode.
3. Ruby Roseman-Gannon
25, Liv AlUla Jayco
Nationals is always a big deal for Liv AlUla Jayco. As the only Australian WorldTour team, it’s a point of pride for them to have the green-and-gold jersey in their ranks.
In 2023, Roseman-Gannon was their best finisher, and she’s another strong option this time. Of the riders likely to survive nine laps of Buninyong, Roseman-Gannon packs one of the fastest sprints.
The Melbournian won the criterium title in 2022 and now has two years of professional experience under her belt. She also has teammates Georgie Howe, Amber Pate and in-form track champions Alex Manly and Georgia Baker, who give the squad plenty of depth.
4. Sarah Gigante
23, AG Insurance - Soudal
After a couple of unlucky years sidelined by injury, Sarah Gigante is raring to return to Buninyong, the scene of her breakout road race win in 2019.
This energetic rider is so keen that in the lead-up, she’s based herself at her aunt and uncle’s home in Ballarat so she can clock up plenty of training laps.
Gigante’s form is clearly good: she recently smashed the Strava record up Mount Buffalo on the way to winning the Tour of Bright. But if we’re honest, no matter what her result, we’ll just be excited to see her racing again!
5. Felicity Wilson-Haffenden
18, Lidl - Trek
A junior national champion and world champion, Wilson-Haffenden is a star of the future.
The time trial at Federation University will be our first chance to see her in pro team colours. Realistically, it’ll be a few years before she can challenge for the elite race, but the Tasmanian will be gunning for the under-23 title.
If you haven’t been following her rapid development, now’s the time to start.
Special mention: Alana Forster
37, Butterfields Racing
The hometown hero: Ballarat resident Alana Forster had a stunning debut year as a para-cyclist.
Forster won the C4 national road race before representing Australia at the UCI World Championships, where she won the scratch race world title on the track.
Head to Buninyong on Sunday morning to cheer for this champion and all of Australia’s best para-cyclists.
6. Luke Plapp
23, Team Jayco AlUla
Plapp won the road race in 2022, then won again in 2023 – can he do the hat-trick?
Having transferred to the Aussie team with a big squad around him, his chances have never been better.
Plapp has been targeting this event and is in excellent shape, but everyone knows it. He’ll have a big red bullseye painted on his back and will need to ride the perfect race.
While the road race can be a bit of a lottery, he’s odds-on to win back the time trial crown, especially with Jay Vine not returning to defend the title.
7. Caleb Ewan
29, Team Jayco AlUla
We’re just a little excited to see the pocket rocket come home to the Australian team.
This sprinter extraordinaire has had a couple of lean years, but he’s got speed to burn and a squad that believes in him.
Watch him hunt down a fourth career criterium title on Sturt Street, before he heads to Buninyong, looking to go one better than his silver medal from 2015.
8. Sam Welsford
27, BORA - hansgrohe
Another exciting sprinter on the move to a new team.
The big West Australian has transitioned brilliantly from track cycling to the road, picking up a bunch of podiums in Europe and getting a Tour de France in his legs.
We’re super keen to see the 2020 criterium champ back in action on Friday night in Ballarat. Imagine a head-to-head sprint between Welsford and Ewan – what dreams are made of!
9. Matthew Dinham
23, dsm-firmenich PostNL
Sydney’s Matt Dinham marked himself as Australia’s hottest young talent after a heroic top 10 at the UCI World Championships.
He’s had a magnificent debut season, highlighted by finishing the Tour de France in his first pro year.
Dinham is an excellent climber who shows a lot of punch on a course like Buninyong. It was only 2022 when he placed second in the under-23 race, pipped by a pure sprinter in Blake Quick.
10. James Whelan
27, Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team
After two years out of the pro ranks, Jimmy Whelan has been given a second chance.
The Melbourne climber always peaks for Nationals. Last year, he was in Ballarat to impress, putting on a show to secure a pro contract. He put himself into the early breakaway, which was doomed to failure.
In 2024, he will be there to win.
Whelan came agonisingly close in 2022, the last rider to be mowed down by a rampaging Luke Plapp. This time, Plapp has named Whelan as his pre-race favourite. Make of that what you will.
Head to Ballarat to watch Australia’s best cyclists in action at the 2024 Federation University Road National Championships from January 3–7. Reminder to sign up for the Gran Fondo and tackle the iconic Buninyong course yourself on closed roads.