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Australian Open Road Championships - CN
Mt Torrens, Australia, January 11-January 14, 2006
Race 4 - January 13: Elite Women's Road Race, 97.5 km
Aggressive race in store as Games places on the line
By Les Clarke in Mt Torrens
With a Commonwealth Games berth on the line, Friday's women's road race is expected to be jam-packed with attacking riding on a course suited to making an early move - if you've got the legs. At 97.5km and with minimal climbing, the Mt Torrens course is challenging enough to make a selection if the right move sticks, but simple enough to offer something for everyone - particularly the sprinters.
A quality field
Reigning national champion Lorian Graham will be missing from the field following the AIS tragedy in Germany last July - her injuries are such that she hasn't been able to return to racing to defend her title. Alexis Rhodes and Kate Nichols will take to the start, however, with Rhodes making a miraculous comeback to enjoy a great win on stage 3 of the Bay Classic. She'll be looking to bring some of that form into the main event on Friday.
Riders such as Oenone Wood, Olivia Gollan, Sara Carrigan and Rochelle Gilmore will be looking to take not only the coveted national champion's jersey, but a place in the team for Melbourne in March. After a tough race against the clock on the opening day of the national championships, many of the starters for the road race will be grateful for the fact that there is minimal climbing in the almost 98 kilometres.
Plenty of aggression
One of the 'dons' of the women's bunch, Olivia Gollan, believes tomorrow's big one will be "a really attacking race because of the nature of the course - it's not hard in terms of profile so it'll give riders the confidence to have a dig." Gollan, who finished fourth in the opening day's time trial is hopeful she'll be mixing it amongst the leaders in what should be "a smart person's race". "I'm going for the win," she said, before joking, "but you won't find out how I plan to do it until the day!"
Gollan knows how special the national champion's jersey is, but tomorrow's race will have an extra bit of spice to it, with qualification for the Commonwealth Games on offer - and that's bound to lift the competition to another level. With the evergreen Kathy Watt securing her place for the Games in the time trial, she'll be backing up for the road race and faces stiff competition from Australia's European-based professionals such as Natalie and Katherine Bates. With the former's third place in Wednesday's time trial, she represents a definite chance for the win, and as Gollan told Cyclingnews, "there are plenty of girls with the form to win".
Following a sixth placing in her first senior women's national time trial, 19-year-old Amanda Spratt is looking forward to a hitout against the best Australia has to offer. She's another that believes the race will be aggressive, and as it's her first senior women's national championship road race, Spratt is hoping to "hang in there and see how I feel". After riding the course she's also of the opinion that the Mt Torrens circuit will be challenging enough to make it a pretty hectic affair.
The former junior points race world champion said she was "really stoked" with her sixth place in the time trial, and "aims to target the event in the future - it's very exciting." With a contract extension and a solid 2005 season in her legs, Sydney rider Rochelle Gilmore comes into the race due for a big result; and the flatter course profile should suit her perfectly. The 24-year-old said that with the double prize on offer most riders will be desperate for the win, something that should suit the field's sprinters, enabling them to be positioned among the leaders in the finale.
Last but definitely not least, 2004 national road race champion Oenone Wood will be out to make up for the disappointment of taking fifth in the opening day's time trial, an area she's been strong in over recent years. Wood is the reigning women's world cup champion, and with the added motivation of taking at least one national champ's jersey from South Australia this January she should come out swinging. With a super-motivated field keen to snare the big prize, the fireworks are sure to fly in Mt Torrens on Friday.
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