Day 3 - January 4: Geelong. Start 4:00pm, finish 9:00pm
By Karen Forman in Geelong
World number one Anna Millward watched from the sidelines as Australian Institute of Sport rider Hayley Rutherford won her first ever medal - which also happened to be the Australian Criterium Championship - following a five-lap solo breakaway during the third round of the 2002 Skilled Geelong Bay Classic at Geelong today.
Millward, who had been expected to join the field for the first time to contest the title, tried life on the other side instead - as assistant announcer to the voice of international cycling, Phil Liggett, visiting from his home base in Britain for this month's Tour Down Under.
She said surgery two weeks ago had played unexpected havoc with her training and racing schedules and that despite hopes of joining fellow Victorian Institute of Sport girls tonight, she was still "too sore" after the undisclosed operation.
"I have some incisions . . . and I am sore," she said. "I didn't pull out of the operation as well as I had thought.
"I am keeping my options open. I need to do the Nationals next week and I need a bit of a hit-out sometime, so I hope I might race tomorrow or Saturday. I would love to be out racing now - it is very hard to just watch."
She is aiming at the time trial and road race at the nationals but conceded it might be difficult to win the time trial on her limited preparation base.
Meanwhile, she showed talent as an announcer -- perhaps a call for the future beyond cycling?
The championship event, for which series leader Rochelle Gilmore was favourite in the absence of Millward, was run over 45 minutes -- despite announcements the previous day that it would run for an hour due to its championship status -- and those minutes flew by.
Day one leader and sprint ace Kristy Scrymgeour was looking to make an imprint on Gilmore's lead from the previous day, latched onto the front of the field at the starter's gun at set a steady pace.
Up there with her were New Zealander Tammy Boyd, Victorian Katie Mactier, Queenslander Sara Carrigan, Gilmore and Fiona Dwyer of NSW.
A crash on the tight corner took five down including Carrigan, seventh in the overall standings after the Barwon Heads round the previous day, and caused a split in the bunch.
Victorian Helen Kelly and day two sprint ace Katherine Bates took advantage of the lull and headed to the front. Mactier joined them, along with Emma Louise Rickards of Victoria, who had featured prominently in sprints and attacks during the past two days of racing, and Liz Tadich.
Sue Thomas of Great Britain led the bunch toward the first of two intermediate sprints but Bates shot forward to claim the points ahead of Naomi Williams and Alison Wright.
Williams continued to create the first real breakaway of the race, with Lorian Graham of Queensland and Olivia Gollan of NSW hot on her wheel.
When Williams, who was the winner last year in Geelong, was reeled in, it was Mactier's turn to attack, with Scrymgeour and Tadich chasing and showing the Victorian colours.
Gollan closed the gap for the bunch but Williams split the field again, to be joined by four other riders . . . including Scrymgeour, who went straight to the front and on the attack again, and Hayley Rutherford.
With four out working, the break began to gain ground on each lap but a huge effort by the ACT's Kim Palmer bridged the gap.
With three laps to go before the second sprint, the pressure was on. Again, gutsy Scrymgeour, was off the front and leading out, with Gilmore was tucked in fifth wheel, safe and fresh for the sprint to come.
It was Carrigan, however, who took the points, after leaping out of the bunch and pumping her legs furiously, with Tadich second. Gilmore, whose 20 point lead continues to stand her in good stead, was third.
The pace of the race lifted during the final 15 minutes as riders began to focus on the Australian title awaiting them at the finish line.
Millward told the crowd Gilmore had the fastest sprint of any rider on the course and that only a breakaway would prevent her from winning. And so the games began.
Scrymgeour attempted another breakaway but the field wasn't buying it and reeled her in smartly. Mactier tried one on but that didn't happen either. Then it was Rickards' turn with five laps to go, but . . . no.
All of a sudden it was Rutherford's turn . . . and this time, the breakaway attempt paid off.
She was still out in front of a chasing bunch -- looking strong, with plenty of energy to spare and making ground -- with three laps to go.
Same again with two to go and the crowd, egged on by Liggett and Millward, was going wild.
By this time the chasing bunch were more concerned with fussing over who was going to take the front than hunting down Rutherford. If there was going to be a sprint, they wanted to leap out from behind somebody else's whee.
The bell for the final lap rang out clearly and Rutherford had a huge, seemingly impossible to bridge, gap. All she needed was a safe ride . . . and she got it.
"What a fabulous way to win an Australian title," Liggett declared with obvious admiration.
In the bunch sprint to follow, the points went to Gilmore and Tania Duff-Miller.
Twenty one year old Rutherford was straight onto the mobile phone after the race. "I won it!" she announced to her father after initially trying all her family's numbers without success.
Later, she told cyclingnews.com how she had "always wanted to win an Austrlaian championship, ever since I started cycling."
"It is my first medal ever," she said.
She said, however, that she had been focussing on winning a national championship to get even with her brother Daniel, who has national scratch race, teams pursuit and criterium titles to his credit.
Rutherford, who spent six months racing in Italy with the AIS last year and five months the previous year, was contesting her fourth Bay Classic series.
She said knowing Gilmore's phenomenal sprinting prowess, she had known a breakaway was the best tactic, but had never imagined she would be doing it alone.
"The plan was to get away . . . but I didn't think I would be doing it by myself," she said. "I was in an earlier breakaway with others but we were caught. Then this time when I went, I was surprised when I looked around and I was alone. But I felt really good, so I just kept going."
Her immediate goals include Commonwealth Games, Worlds and Olympics.
1 Hayley Rutherford (WA) 2 Rochelle Gillmore (NSW) 3 Tania Duff Miller (NZl) 4 Katie Mactier (Vic) 5 Lorian Graham (Qld) 6 Naomi Williams (Tas) 7 Alison Wright (ACT) 8 Elizabeth Tadich (Vic) 9 Joanne Kiesanowski (NZl)