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BMC Software Australian Open Road Championships
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, January 16-19, 2003
2002 BMC Software Australian Cyclist of the Year, Robbie McEwen, began last year by claiming the national champion's green and gold jersey and he says he wants it again in 2003.
McEwen will join a record field of 153 for the men's road race at the BMC Software Australian Open Road Championships which begin on Thursday with the women's road time trial, and culminate on Sunday with the staging of the men's road race.
"I would really love to defend the road crown because I enjoyed riding around wearing the Aussie jersey all season in the professional ranks ," said McEwen. "I hope I managed to make it a jersey people really recognise and take notice of."
There is no doubt the jersey is well recognised internationally after McEwen's phenomenal season of success. His victory in Ballarat last year was the first of many for the Queenslander whose highlights included becoming the first Australian to win the green points jersey in the Tour de France, an event in which he also claimed two stage wins. At the world championships in Belgium he sprinted home for the silver medal and during the year won 19 UCI races to move to number four on the world rankings.
But McEwen admits it will be tough to win the Australian title this year.
"There are so many guys training hard for it this year and a lot of guys who are not normally 'early season starters' are already in top condition," said McEwen nominating Cadel Evans, Matt White and Stuart O'Grady as just a few of the riders to watch.
"I'm pretty much aiming to ride the same plan as last year which was to stay in front with the main contenders and wait for the right time to attack, or if it's a bunch sprint use my speed," explained McEwen, who yesterday took out overall honours in the Bay Criterium Series in Victoria.
"I had a good break at the end of last season and since then I've been training well," said McEwen who will race with Lotto-Domo in Europe this season. "I'll already have about 5,500kms in my legs by Sunday."
McEwen says the Bunninyong course is a tough one and expects the field to be whittled down as the race goes on.
"You won't get a surprise winner on this course and whoever wins really has to earn it," said McEwen who admits that last year's success has created an expectation that when he lines up he should do well. "There is extra pressure on me but I'm not putting it on myself."
One rider McEwen tips as a dark horse for the race is Wollongong's Jonathon Hall, 30, who is making a comeback after several years away from racing. Hall was the Australian road and time trial champion in 1997 and in the same year finished eighth in the time trial at the World Championships in San Sebastian, Spain. Hall was also the World Duathlon Champion in 1996.
"I hear he's been training hard for it and the course suits him so I'll keep an eye on him as well," said McEwen with Hall also expected to be a contender for a medal in Friday's time trial event.
Defending champion Nathan O'Neill, the time trial bronze medallist at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, will not race as he is required in America by his new team, Saturn. Also not lining up in the time trial is Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Cadel Evans.
"I'm not ready yet for a time trial at this stage of the season," said Evans who is following a meticulous pre-season program and is tipped to ride his first Tour de France in July this year. Last year on debut in the Giro d'Italia, Evans, wore the leader's pink jersey for a day. He will however contest the road race on Sunday before heading to Adelaide for next week's Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under. Evans was in Adelaide last week meeting and training with his new team mates after signing with the German registered Telekom team late last year.
The favourite for the time trial is undoubtedly Michael Rogers who was the silver medallist in Manchester and placed ninth at the World Championships in Belgium. Rogers is the defending champion for the Tour Down Under and will fly to Adelaide tonight (Monday 13th) to prepare for the BMC Software Australian Open Road Championships and to meet his new Quickstep Davitamon team mates who flew into Australia yesterday.
The women's time trial on Thursday will see 2003 BMC Software Women's Road Cyclist of the Year, Sara Carrigan out to defend her crown. Carrigan was fifth in the event at last year's World Championships in Belgium.
The 2003 BMC Software Australian Open Road Championships will be held at Bunninyong, near Ballarat from January 16th to 19th. Cyclingnews will be providing full coverage of all the events.
Venue: Buninyong, near Ballarat, Victoria. All races start at 11am
Men's Road Race 2002 Robbie McEwen (Qld) 2001 Steve Williams (NSW) 2000 Jeremy Hunt (GBr) (Australian champion: Jamie Drew) Women's Road Race 2002 Margaret Hemsley (NSW) 2001 Katie Mactier (Vic) 2000 Anna Wilson (Vic) Saturn Men's Time Trial 2002 Nathan O'Neill (Qld) Women's Time Trial 2002 Sara Carrigan (Qld) 2001 Anna Millward (Vic) 2000 Tracey Gaudry (ACT) 1999 Kristy Scrymgeour (NSW)