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Jayco Herald Sun Tour - 2.1

Australia, October 8-14, 2006

2006 Jayco Herald Sun Tour launch - Lygon Street, Melbourne

Gerrans rates McCann for Herald-Sun Tour

- McEwen and Vogels to arrive at start in helicopter

Riders from the Jayco Herald Sun Tour pose for a photographer
Photo ©: Shane Goss
(Click for larger image)

Simon Gerrans is hoping to become just the fourth man to defend his title of Jayco Herald-Sun Tour champion in the Australian stage race that starts this Sunday in Melbourne.

But after arriving in the Victorian capital to a blustery 30-degree day on Wednesday, he tested his legs up one of the decisive climbs of the race, Lake Mountain, and experienced vastly different conditions.

"It was pretty cold up there, I was quite surprised, I got snowed on and there was hail, all sorts of weather so it was a bit of a shock."

The Victorian rider, who was part of the AG2r Prévoyance squad at this year's Tour de France, will be the leader of a composite Australian team that also features ProTour team riders such as Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) and Trent Lowe (Discovery).

Gerrans, who also won the 2006 Tour Down Under held in Adelaide last January, goes into the race as favourite but rates Irishman David McCann, who will ride with the Giant Asia Racing team, as one of the biggest threats. "I watched him ride at the World Championships a couple of weeks ago and he was really strong and has a really good team, so I rate him highly."

McCann arrived in Melbourne early to prepare for the race and after finishing third last year his expectations are high. "Obviously I want to go one or even two spots better than last year but there is a lot of competition. There's Robbie and Simon but there are any number of potential winners, it's a smaller field than last year but the quality is probably higher than ever," McCann said.

Meanwhile, organisers have revealed that McEwen will make his grand entrance just hours before the start of the first stage of the Sun Tour in Shepparton this Sunday. The three-time Tour de France sprint champion will fly from his home on the Gold Coast in Queensland, over 2000kms north of Melbourne, early on Sunday morning, before boarding a helicopter at Tullamarine airport that will take him and teammate Henk Vogels, plus their bikes, to Shepparton for the opening stage criterium.

As expected, McEwen will be favourite for Sunday's opening stage and Gerrans believes that McEwen could dominate the race, at least until the climb up Lake Mountain on Thursday. "He could win five of the seven stages, but I'm not sure how he'll go up the climb. He's in great form and is such a great rider, but I don't think he'll go up that mountain as well as some of us."

Other sprinters not so keen to have TdF star

Victorian Hilton Clarke, from the US-based Navigators Insurance squad, won the final stage in Lygon Street, Melbourne, last year, overhauling Baden Cooke to take the overall sprinters title. Clarke has been in excellent form while racing in the highly competitive USA criterium circuit.

"I'm in good form and I won a few races in the US this year. I was relaxed and was really looking forward to the race, but then I heard that Robbie was racing and I've been nervous and on edge ever since," Clarke told reporters. "It's always exciting to have another go at Robbie on home turf so now I'm looking forward to it. I'm one of the few to get the better of him on home soil so I'm up for the challenge.

Hilton Clarke of the Navigators team will be looking
Photo ©: Shane Goss
(Click for larger image)

"I wasn't too excited when I heard he was arriving, but it's made me focus a bit more and I'm always up for a challenge. I was hoping that I'd be the measuring stick this year, but now I don't have to beat the best in Australia, I have the beat the best in the world."

All riders agree that the climb to Lake Mountain and the time trial in Kew will be pivotal to their overall Tour aspirations; however, there is another element that weighs heavily on the minds of all the leading protagonists - the weather. "The wind on the flats stages can be even more decisive," said McCann.

Clarke added, "Everyone's talking about Lake Mountain and the climb but before then the ride from Shepparton to Bendigo is so open that guys like Robbie and maybe myself can really tear it apart if it's windy. That may sort out the top ten riders and then it will be out of that ten to see who gets up Lake Mountain first."

Gerrans is anxious for the Tour to begin: "I've never gone into a stage race as the defending champion before, so it's a whole new experience so it will be good to see how I handle the pressure.

"It's my home-town race so it is really important to me so I'll be doing everything I can to try and win."

Ninety-eight riders, representing 14 teams and 13 countries will compete over seven days, seven stages and 820km in this year's Tour. The line-up contains the defending champion, along with riders who have amassed impressive titles - including three Olympic gold medallists, four world champions, eight Olympians and ten former stage winners in what is one of the strongest fields in the history of the event (see race section for stages and details).


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Shane Goss/www.licoricegallery.com