Rupert Guinness, the OZ cycling writer said that "Victorian cyclist Stephen Pate knows he must ride the most painful race of his career in order to become the first four-time winner of Australia's oldest track event - the Austral Wheel Race - in Melbourne on Saturday."
"With Tasmanian veteran Danny Clark, Pate is only one of two riders who have won the prestigious 2000 metre handicap race three times since it was first held in 1887. However, to add a record fourth victory to his crowns of 1988, 1991, and 1993, Pate faces a tough battle against the biggest field in eight years."
Guinness continues that "The largest hurdle facing the 1988 world professional sprint champion could come as early as in his heat of the $12,000 race, which promises $6,000 to the winner of the final. Pate and Victoria's Scott McGrory are the only scratchmen from 160 starters. And both must finish first or second in their heats at Melbourne's Northcote Velodrome to automatically qualify for the final. For Pate, with six of the 10 riders in his heat starting with handicaps of between 140 m and 165 m, his first priority will be to catch them."
"To do that he will first need to raly on an immediate and energy-sapping chase of the three closet backmarkers to him - NSW's Sean Hopkins (at 20 m), Ian Christensen (35 m) and last year's winner, WA's Tony Hughes (40 m). Then the four riders will have to pull off a combined effort to reel the leaders in before the climax to an all-important sprint begins."
Pate said that "Hopefully, we can get together quickly, take quick turns at the front and chase them down. But its going to require a real hard ride. If I finish third or fourth in the heat, I can still qualify for the semi-final. But to be honest, with the effort I'll need to put out in the heat it would be simply too hard to do it again in the semi-final and then expect to pull off a winning ride in the final. I think that to do it (win fourth Austral) I'll need to break every record there is."
Guinness continues "Despite the size of the challenge facing Pate, history shows that he has achieved success as a scratch marker. He might have had handicaps of 20 m in 1993 and 10 m in 1991 when he won, but for his first victory in 1988 he started off scratch. Win or lose this year's 97th edition, Pate will still have enough on his plate to feed his competitive appetite from other events in Saturday's carnival which begins at 7 pm."
"One of the most prolific racers in any track carnival, Pate will also chase Victorian titles in the Keirin race and the sprint final where he meets Hopkins. And he will end his night with the scratch race as well."
Pate said "I'm not really sure how good I will be for the sprint title. I'm about one second slower overthe 200 m than I used to be. But I'll still give it a good try. However, my main aim for the season is the Australian Madison Title in Perth on March 2. I really want to win that and hopefully get selected for the world titles in Manchester at the end of the year."