Stage 1 - January 2: Rye. Start 12.30pm, finish 3.30pm
SBR propels Clarke to win
By Karen Forman in Rye
A brilliant display of teammanship, combined with the incredible staying power of Graeme Brown, saw the Australian-based SBR-Swim Bike Run elite team take first and second places and the overall lead in the first round of the 2002 Skilled Geelong Bay Classic at Rye, Victoria, today.
None of the other 15 teams contesting the hour-long criterium on the tight, challenging - and wet - 600 metre Rye car park circuit worked quite with the precision of SBR members, who fended off repeated challenges from top Australians and 18 international riders to clinch both the yellow (winners) and green (sprint) jerseys.
Despite chilly windy and at times, rainy conditions, a large crowd of cycling enthusiasts and curious holidaymakers was on hand to cheer on Brown, who led in a solo breakaway most of the way and team mates Hilton Clarke, Krisjan Snorrenson and Greg Henderson as they came together with eight minutes to go, to ride in perfect formation, almost as if they were contesting a teams time trial.
While 22 year old Sydney resident Brown had set up the win and continued to apply the pressure at the end, it was Clarke who had the acceleration to sprint at the bell, fending off last year's stage one and overall winner Robbie McEwen, who placed third behind Clarke and Brown.
It was a popular win and a perfect start for a team which spectators declared had well earned the accolade.
"This is a dream start for SBR.elite and Group SBR," team director John Grant, said last night.
"Our objective with SBR.elite is to establish an organization across Australian and New Zealand that provides Australasia's developing world class cycling talent an environment within the SBR (www.s-b-r.com) organization to train and race that also interfaces with the corporate sector that is so critical to bringing success for our athletes. We could not have hoped for a better start to our campaign."
As Clarke and Brown hinted at during the presentation, Grant said the team had raced virtually to plan, being in control and command from the opening laps.
"The strength and depth in our team was reflected in the clean sweep of the sprint, individual and team jerseys for this opening stage. We know that now we have set the height of the bar and the enormous talent in the field now knows what they have to chase," he said.
Brown made no secret of the fact the team was out to beat McEwen and had planned its tactics accordingly.
"Our tactic was to just go out and show Melbourne what we could do," he said, "and even better we beat Robbie, heh heh.
"Last year we knocked on the door trying to beat him but we realised this time that if we couldn't beat him in a sprint, we would try to do it with a breakaway.
"Today was a good confidence booster. I was tired from being out in front . . . and it was an excellent ride from the team."
A member of the Crown Casino team, McEwen was an early leader of the race, but Brown was up there, along with Corey Sweet from the Skilled team, in the early stages and never looked back.
With New Zealander Graeme Miller (Skilled) they opened a 15 metre gap, fending off attacks from Australia's new and the world's first publicly-subscribed trade team iteamNova.com, out to make its mark on its first outing since its December launch.
The first intermediate sprint was collected by Victorian rider Lee Godfrey (City of Greater Geelong team) with Davide Pell of Victoria (SBR) second and iteamNova rider Alan Iacuone, also from Victoria, third.
Soon after, Jeremy Hunt of Great Britain (Skilled Quest), Clarke and Godfrey established a 25 metre margin, but were reeled in by McGrory and Snorrenson (SBR).
With the pace on (riders said later they were hitting 50km in the straights and 20-25 around the tight corners) and the field spreading out Brown was the leader with David McKenzie (iteamNova) showing a burst of speed to hunt him town.
McGrory and Tour de France star Stuart O'Grady, both among the race favourites, were at this stage not to be seen in the front of the field.
The second intermediate sprint went unsurprisingly to Brown, who coasted in alone, with Rodney McGee second and Iacuone third.
Thirty-five minutes in and McKenzie was 7th and O'Grady 18th, while Great Britain rider Jeremy Hunt (Skilled Quest) was chasing the breakaway, which was swallowed up in the back straight . . . but not for long.
The third sprint went to Brown with Jono Davis (NSW Institute of Sport) second and Iacuone third. Matt White (NSW IS) and David Pell (SBR) attempted a breakway but with eight minutes to go, it was team time trial time for SBR, with Snorrenson, Henderson, Clarke and Brown out in front and upping the tempo.
At the final bell, Clarke went for it to take the win, with Brown, who somehow found the energy after all his solo work at the front throughout the race to take seconed and McEwen third.
SBR might not be all that well known - yet - but it is hardly surprising it did so well given its riders' recent racing results.
Brown's recent best include fifth in the team pursuit at the Sydney Olympics; Stage 1 and Sprint Jersey winner in the 2001 Tour Down Under; Stage 3 and Sprint Jersey winner in the 2001 Perth Criteriums, 5th in the World Championship Madison in 2001, 3 stage wins and the Sprint Jersey 2000 in the 2000 Commonwealth Bank Classic , 2nd Overall in the 2001 Skilled Bay Series, 2nd Overall in the 2000 Bay Series and membership of the er 2001 Under 23 Australian National Team.
He has signed with Italian team Panario for the 2002 season and will be a definite starter in the Giro d'Italia.
Clarke, 22 from Melbourne, had two stage wins and collected the overall honours in the 2001 Perth Criteriums and was third overall in last year's Skilled Bay Series 2001, said he was "ecstatic".
On the winner's podium, he paid tribute to the hard work of his teammates and said he had felt very confident with Brown out the front.
"There are a lot of top individual riders here but we really worked together as a time today," he said.
"Me and Graeme just did the Perth criterium series - I won and he won a stage - and we gelled together really well. This is a great start to the year.
"We have first and second and the leaders jersey and we are aiming high for the rest of the series."
Clarke, whose other career highlights include seven wins in the USA with Team Navigators, second overall in the Sunraysia Tour, a final stage win in the NZ Southland Tour, 2000 Stage winner Tour of Tasmania, and win in the 2000 Melbourne to Warnambool, is now hoping to get a ride in the Tour Down Under.
"I know it is hard to get a start so I am basically hoping somebody pulls out . . ." he said.
McEwen had only bouquets for the winning team, saying he "had to hand it to the boys".
"They rode a great team race," he said. "They were in control of the race. When a team rides that strong you have to go out and be stronger."
1 Hilton Clarke (Vic) SBR - Swim Bike Run 2 Graeme Brown (NSW) SBR - Swim Bike Run 3 Robbie McEwen (Qld) Crown Casino 4 Graham Roots (SA) Rio Coffee 5 Brett Aitken (SA) Rio Coffee 6 Graeme Miller (NZl) Skilled 7 Scott McGrory (Vic) Skilled Quest 8 Greg Henderson (NZl) SBR - Swim Bike Run 9 Chris Carr (Vic) Balance/Carnegie CC 10 Baden Burke (ACT) Ashburton Cycles Sprints Sprint 1 1 Lee Godfrey (Vic) City of Greater Geelong 2 David Pell (Vic) SBR - Swim Bike Run 3 Alan Iacuone (Vic) iteamNova.com Sprint 2 1 Graeme Brown (NSW) SBR - Swim Bike Run 2 Rodney McGee (NSW) NSWIS 3 Alan Iacuone (Vic) iteamNova.com Sprint 3 1 Graeme Brown (NSW) SBR - Swim Bike Run 2 Jono Davis (NSW) NSWIS 2 3 Alan Iacuone (Vic) iteamNova.com Overall standings after race 1 1 Hilton Clarke (Vic) SBR - Swim Bike Run 12 pts 2 Graeme Brown (NSW) SBR - Swim Bike Run 10 3 Robbie McEwen (Qld) Crown Casino 8 4 Graham Roots (SA) Rio Coffee 7 5 Brett Aitken (SA) Rio Coffee 6 6 Graeme Miller (NZl) Skilled 5 7 Scott McGrory (Vic) Skilled Quest 4 8 Greg Henderson (NZl) SBR - Swim Bike Run 3 9 Chris Carr (Vic) Balance/Carnegie CC 2 10 Baden Burke (ACT) Ashburton Cycles 1 Sprint Ace 1 Graeme Brown (NSW) SBR - Swim Bike Run 7 pts 2 Alan Iacuone (Vic) iteamNova.com 3 3 David Pell (Vic) SBR - Swim Bike Run 2 4 Rodney McGee (NSW) NSWIS 2 5 Jono Davis (NSW) NSWIS 2 2