Three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome will return to Victoria and lead Team Sky to defend his Jayco Herald Sun Tour title next February.
Froome will face strong competition from Orica-BikeExchange’s star Colombian rider Esteban Chaves as he tries to win his second consecutive Jayco Herald Sun Tour title.
It is the first time Australia’s oldest stage race, which runs from Wednesday 1st – Sunday 5th, will have two international stars in a climbing duel with a new final stage and a tough Falls Creek stage finish features of the 2017 Sun Tour route.
After the now traditional open stage city-centre prologue the course will be more challenging in 2017 with the stage one finish at Falls Creek after starting in Wangaratta.
Riders will then go through Beechworth, Benalla and into Mitchelton Winery before completing four circuits of Kinglake on Sunday in what promises to be an epic final stage as the climax of the summer of cycling.
Last year the race was decided early as Froome worked with Team Sky colleague Peter Kennaugh to break away from the field during the first stage, and then snatched the yellow jersey from his teammate for an epic victory at the top of the third and final climb up Arthur’s Seat on the final day.
Froome, who will attempt to be the first rider to win consecutive Jayco Herald Sun Tour races since Victorian Simon Gerrans achieved the feat in 2005-06, said he was anticipating a tougher battle this year, but given the success of his early season foray in 2016, there was no reason not to begin his racing season in Victoria again next year.
“I’m really looking forward to starting my season in Australia again,” Froome said.
“I love riding in Australia. The weather is great and the crowds always come out in force to support the riders. That makes it all the more enjoyable.
“It’s always tough racing and a really strong, competitive field - so it’s an ideal way for me to kick off my year. I took a similar approach last year and felt it was a great way to set up my season."
“We’ll be out with a strong squad and looking to get 2017 off to a winning start."
Team Sky Head of Performance Operations Rod Ellingworth said the team can rely on fast racing against a hungry peloton.
"Our guys are ready for some hard and competitive racing to start off the season, and they know they're going to get that in Australia.”
"It's always fantastic to see so many people at the roadside and we're looking forward to seeing everyone again in the new year."
The 64th edition of Australia’s oldest race will see the three-time Tour de France winner up against 26-year-old Esteban Chaves from Orica-BikeExchange who had a breakout season in 2016.
Chaves came second in the Giro d'Italia, third at the Vuelta a Espana and rode to victory at the Italian monument, Il Lombardia.
"He (Froome) is obviously happy with how he did last season in winning the Herald Sun Tour and then winning the Tour de France, so maybe we can copy that," Chaves said last week.
"I have started training early, which is new for me. But the important thing is I'm super motivated, I'm happy to do it and I'll go 100 per cent.”
Both Chaves and Froome are planning a pre Sun Tour hit out at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race to ensure they are ready for the battle at Falls Creek and Kinglake.
Minister for Tourism and Major Events John Eren said the Jayco Herald Sun Tour was a key date on Victoria’s calendar of major sporting events.
“Victoria now has a reputation as a sought-after location for the best cyclists in the world who want to come here to start their season,” Mr Eren said.
“To have Chris Froome return to defend his title says it all and even more people will come from around the country to see him be seriously challenged this year in what promises to be a great race.”
“Events like the Jayco Herald Sun Tour aren’t just great sporting spectacles, they’re big boosts to Victoria’s economy too. This event is particularly beneficial for Victoria because it gives our rural and regional communities their chance to shine.”
Jayco Herald Sun Tour chairman Tom Salom echoed those sentiments and believes Froome and Chaves will only further inspire the growing crop of young Australian talent.
“The Jayco Herald Sun Tour is now the only international cycling event in Australia giving our young cyclists the opportunity to ride next to the best in the world in a challenging race,” Salom said.
“It is tremendous that Chris has decided to return to the Jayco Herald Sun Tour after his win this year and to have Esteban challenging him on the peaks of Falls Creek is a thrill for everyone involved.”
“For aspiring riders on all the domestic teams, the chance to ride alongside Chris and his Team Sky colleagues will be memorable, as it will be for all those watching from the road side.”
“We again thank the Victorian Government and Jayco, who continue their ongoing support for the event. “The ‘Sun Tour’ has been part of our DNA at the Herald Sun for over 60 years and with this announcement, is set to go to yet another level in 2017.”'
Prologue - Wednesday 1st February – Melbourne Southbank – 2.1km
Stage 1 - Thursday 2nd February – Wangaratta to Falls Creek – 169.9km
Stage 2 - Friday 3rd February – Mt Beauty to Beechworth – 165.6km
Stage 3 - Saturday 4th February - Benalla to Mitchelton Winery - 165.6km
Stage 4 – Sunday 5th February – Kinglake – 120km (4 x 30km laps)
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