TWO-time Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic winner Joel Pearson will aim for back-to-back titles but expects tough competition.
Pearson, 29, won the iconic 262-kilometre road race in 2009 and 2011 and will challenge for a third crown on October 13.
The Melbourne to Warrnambool is the third last competition on the 13-event National Road Series calendar and is one of five category one races.
“The way it is shaping, the word is it’s one of the strongest fields Warrnambool has had for a number of years,” Pearson said.
“There are a lot of teams and individuals who have a shot at the title and everybody is doing it to get maximum points.
“There are some big competitors within my (Genesys Wealth Advisors) team.
“Anthony Giacoppo is in very strong form and I’d be happy for one of them to take it out.”
Melbourne to Warrnambool director John Craven said he anticipated about 200 entries before Sunday’s midnight deadline.
“I expect one of the strongest fields we’ve ever had,” he said.
“Cycling is becoming more prominent in Australia and the sport is getting bigger.
“Joel Pearson is seeking a place in history to win the event for a third time but there are another 100 riders in the race wanting to win it also.”
Pearson finished 13th in the 60-kilometre Launceston to New Norfolk Classic on Sunday.
“I won a couple of stages of the Tour of the Murray and that was a good confidence-booster,” he said.
“I am on track for a good performance but it’s a competitive field this year.”
The New South Welshman said winning the Melbourne to Warrnambool, the oldest cycling race in Australia and second-oldest one-day race in the world, was something all Australian cyclists aspired to.
“It’s the biggest race on the Australian calendar for us guys,” Pearson said.
“If you win in Warrnambool, you stand out in history.
“It is epic. It is a journey every time you do it.
“It’s a full day on the bike and there are a million stories to tell.”
Pearson finished the 2011 race in seven hours, 24 minutes and 14 seconds — 10 seconds clear of second-placed Nathan Haas.
“I prefer conditions to be hard and the wind to be up,” he said.
“Coming into Warrnambool is a pretty iconic part of the race — there are a few up and downs and the attack starts.”
The Shipwreck Coast Cycling Classic on October 14 and Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic on October 27 round out the National Road Series.