Men's Road Championships, 160 kms:Men's Preview
Today's Australian Road Cycling Championship 160 km road race has some notable absences which will ensure a close finish. The course has been criticised because it has only one tough hill and a mass sprint is not out of the question. The favoured riders are currently the Victorians who have the greatest depth.
But, the form riders are from NSW at present. ITT Champion and strong rider in the recently concluded Commonwealth Bank Cycling Classic, Jonathan Hall is steaming. NSW also boasts Scott Sunderland who is very keen to take the Championship. Steve Williams from NSW, third in the ITT is also riding strongly.
What of Scott Sunderland? He last won the title in 1986 but does not race in Australia very much, given the rigours of the European season. Mick Chapman, local Newcastle coach and advisor to Scott told me that "Scott wouldn't waste his time coming unless he was serious about taking it out. He doesn't need to travel across the continent to ride 160 kms in November!". Okay, Mick, so Scott is intent.
The strong Victorian team has 23-year-old David McKenzie at the helm. He didn't ride the Commonwealth Bank Classic but came 12th in the Herald-Sun Tour a week earlier. The second placegetter in the ITT Jamie Drew is also riding in the Victorian team along with 1994 title holder Allan Iacuone, former world professional sprint champion Stephen Pate, Australian under-23 rider Marcel Gono and Tristan Priem.
The race is 14 laps of the circuit.
Jonathan Hall must now be considered the form rider in Australia. He came 8th in the World ITT Championships in San Sebastian recently, won the ITT Championship last Wednesday and today won the Road Championship. Along the way he won stages in the Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic which finished recently.
There was apparently some aggro between Hall and a Victorian (no names) which led to Hall attacking and taking 5 others with him at the 125 kms mark. He attacked again with 11 kms to go and overcame Steve Williams to go on to a 59 second victory. Tristan Priem from Victoria second and Williams third.
A radio report quoted Hall as saying: "Winning two national titles in one week is something I wouldn't have even dreamed of coming into this week...I'm really hungry to win at the moment."
Women's Road Championships, 100 kms:Women's Preview
ITT Champion Anna Wilson, is the strong favourite to win the 9-lap 100 km Women's Road Race. Wilson is having a great domestic season after bowing out of International racing this year to pursue a legal career.
Mick Chapman also told me that Wilson is more suited to the road tactics, despite riding a great ITT earlier in the week.
Who are the contenders? Clearly, you cannot discount Kathy Watt. Local rider and 1996 title holder, Lyn Nixon also will challenge. Nixon, who has two children, was the first Australian to win a stage in the Tour de France Feminin. She also has the advantage of having the home crowd on her side.
The race began with controversy when officials, on the starting line, ordered Victorian rider Kathy Watt to remove communication equipment. Watt enraged cycling officials in a last minute attempt to use outside assistance. Her manager, Carey Hall said that "There are no rules that you can't use it. Why do you have to ask the question as to whether you can use it when there is no rule against it. They do it overseas".
Cycling Australia President, Ray Godkin said "We made a ruling, no headsets". Race winner Symenko Jochinke said after the race "If she's got that on then she's got an overall advantage on all of us. She's getting communiques to say what's going on - who's fit, who's fresh."
It should be pointed out that Kathy regularly uses the transmitter while racing overseas. Once again the officials have seemed to create a controversy. If there are no rules, how can they interfere?
Jochinke broke from the field in second last lap and held off Victoria's Anna Wilson to win by 24 seconds. Wilson was hoping to add the road championship to her ITT win in Wednesday. With one lap to go her lead was 35 seconds and the peloton including Kathy Watt, Anna Wilson and 1996 Champion, Lyn Nixon was bearing down on her. Over the last lap, Jochinke took further time out of the peloton in emphatic manner.
Six riders sprinted for second place with Anna Wilson taking second and Queensland's Bridget Evans taking the bronze.
Jochinke in a television report after the race said her win was "awesome. We'll see what happens in the next couple of months, but this is good. I've got track nationals in March and hopefully I'll get into the world team and then do the Commonwealth Games and Olympics - that's the goal."
Suffice to say Victorian Anna Wilson dominated the Women's program by winning the time trial and finishing second in the road race (where she looked very strong) and criterium. Wilson can also count herself unlucky in the criterium as she was edged out in the sprint by a classic one-two by West Australians Sandra Smith (winner) and Lucy Tyler-Sharman (third).
Naturally the bad blood that dominates the domestic Women's cycling in Australia in the guise of Watt versus Tyler-Sharman gathered the majority of the publicity.
While the jury is still out on whether an acrimonious Watt against Cycling Australia officialdom or Tyler-Sharman is good publicity - given that something is better than none at all - but the local media spotlight preferred to focus on this antagonism relegating the races to a backdrop of internal fueding.
The one rider who could have altered the negative coverage was Scott Sunderland, but he completed the Championship in total anonymity and retired from the the road race and criterium saying he did not have the legs for the Titles.
Perth's weekend newspaper, The Sunday Times, devoted its minimal coverage of the Womens road race, albeit on the back page, to the Watt radio earpiece saga. Hall, a commanding winner of the mens road race, was not even mentioned despite both races being run on the same day. The South Australian winner, Symeko Jochinke, made an intelligent breakaway 88km into the 102km race, but her fine efforts were regrettably overshadowed as Watt versus Cycling Australia Round Whatever garnered the limited commercial television exposure.
The Mens criterium had the biggest attendance at the Championships and while it made for an exciting race there seemed a lack of team tactics on view (with the notable exception of coach Dave Sanders' Victorians). An early break quickly broke away and with many of the favourites latching onto the back it was destined to stay away, particularly so when there was a total lack of enthusiasm from the remnants of the main bunch to set up an organised chase.
Predictably, the Victorians placed six in the top seven with Stephen Pate and Tristan Priem riding off the front with two laps to go and the former's devastating sprint being too good for the latter - who also finished second in the road race.
But plaudits must go to world duathlon champion Hall, who told local media that he intended to concentrate on cycling and return to Spain to captain an amateur team, but will turn professional six months into the road season.
Given that he already has been approached by several (smaller?) European teams to turn professional, expect some of the more prominent outfits to register an interest mid-season.
Certainly, Hall has nothing more to gain by continuing to race and earn his modest living in Australia as the almost insulting crowd at the presentation of time trial proved.
Granted it was midweek and midday so it was essentially mums and dads and a few cyclists with time off work, but that is the point and Hall must now confront the bigger picture that awaits him.