Report from the National Australian Press

The headline of this morning's Australian sport's report reads "Stephens rides into history on road to Olympic squad".

The story by the Australian's (OZ National daily newspaper) cycling writer Rupert Guinness begins by saying that "Australian road cyclist Neil Stephens became a sure-fire bet to earn Australian Olympic road team selection with his win in the Spanish Ruta del Sol stage race at the weekend. It was his first stage race win in Europe."

Guinness continues that "The 32 year-old Canberra cyclist, who rides for the Spanish team ONCE, joined now retired Victorian Phil Anderson as the only Australian's to win such an event. The result was a turn of destiny for Stephens who normally serves as a domestique for leaders such as Laurent Jalabert."

Stephens said "I normally ride to help others win, not me. It's a great feeling and it's one that I think every domestique deserves at least once in their career." Stephens has been told by ONCE that he will be permitted to make another victory bid in the Tour of Murcia in Spain on March 6-10, before he returns to his usual duties of supporting others.

In other news, Guinness writes "Australia's world champion track cyclists will gamble their reputations when they line up for the national titles at Perth, starting tomorrow. But stacking odds against the men's Australian Institute of Sport squad will be the effects of a gruelling four-week high altitude training camp in Mexico, where they tallied 3500 kms in the hilly 3000 metre high surroundings of Talluca, near Mexico City. And making their task harder will be the band of disgruntled interstate riders who missed selection for the AIS squad."

Guinness continues that "AIS track coach Charlie Walsh says any hope of top results from his charges at Perth's Midvale Speedome hinge on natural ability rather than fine-tuned track preparation.

Walsh said "The sort of road training we did in Mexico is not really allied to the needs of track racing. But what we did in Mexico is a vital ingredient for our riders endurance in the Olympic Games - and for future years. With only four days to recover and with the road work they've done, we need to rely on each rider's quality as a performer - his basic raw ability - to do well. They'll be racing without any track preparation at all." Walsh took 13 riders to Mexico.

Guiness says that "while the AIS riders will be defending their billings as world beaters in Perth, they will be consoled knowing that the title, ending Sunday, are not an official Olympic selection event. But even if a rider not with the AIS was to burst into Olympic candidacy with a world-class ride, Walsh says the chances of earning a ticket to Atlanta were still slim."

Walsh said "The nationals will not determine Olympic selection. In Australia, we have the most expansive selection procedure there is. To be selected for the Games, you have to be selected for the squad, then you are tested on a daily basis for training, physiology, racing history and personality. If someone does show up at the nationals and has the necessary qualities, of course they will be considered for the squad. But history has shown that when this happens they don't have the capacity to just move in. Rather they are often targetted for (selection) the next year."