Ewan, Matthews chasing national road crown

The shadow of Australian sprint sensation Caleb Ewan looms large over the national road cycling championships in Ballarat.

The five-time Tour de France stage winner headlines Sunday's elite men's road race, where his competitors will try to shake off Ewan over 16 laps of the gruelling Buninyong course.

But if the country's best sprinter can position himself within striking distance near the 186km finish on Sunday, put down your glasses.

Luke Plapp (INEOS Grenadiers) is back to defend his road race title at the national championships, which run from January 6-10, while three-time world championships medallist Michael Matthews poses a huge threat.

Matthews' chances have been boosted by the strong team put out by Team Jayco AlUla.

Ewan and Matthews return after years away in search of a first national road race title, having both finished as close as second in previous attempts.

Plapp expects strong competition for rights to the green and gold jersey.

"This year is sure to be one of the most star-stacked fields we have seen in some time ,with the majority of Australia's best WorldTour riders returning, and also the high quality of riders that are coming out of the domestic scene and peaking for nationals," Plapp said.

"We have seen a number of young Aussies turning pro after successful summers and I look forward to seeing who stands out this year."

Grace Brown (FDJ Suez Futuroscope) is chasing her first elite women's road race title after finishing on the podium three times.

She faces competition from a seven-strong Jayco AlUla team, bolstered by the addition of Commonwealth Games champion Georgia Baker.

Three-time champion Amanda Spratt will debut for her new team Trek-Segafredo, with support from Brodie Chapman and Lauretta Hanson.

Brown is the favourite for the elite women's time trial, seeking a third title, while Chloe Hosking (Roxsolt Liv SRAM) is a threat in Friday's criterium and the road race.

Ruby Roseman-Gannon (Jayco AlUla) is in hot form after winning this week's Bay Crits and will be supported by Alexandra Manly and Jessica Allen in her criterium title defence.

Ewan also headlines the men's criterium, with the three-time national champion to be aided by Lotto-Dstny teammates Jarrad Drizners and Harry Sweeny on the 1.1km street circuit in Ballarat's city centre.

A challenge will come from the formidable Team Jayco AlUla line-up, which will likely ride for young sensation Blake Quick.

Luke Durbridge will be chasing his fifth national title in the time trial, with 2021 champion Plapp shaping as a big threat.

Jayco-AlUla teammates Chris Harper and Kelland O'Brien are also in the mix, as is last year's bronze medallist Conor Leahy.