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Australian Open Road Championships - CN

Ballarat, Australia, January 9-January 12, 2008

Olympic year adds extra heat to Aussie nationals

Continued from Page 1.

Mactier back for more success

Victoria's Katie Mactier will return
Photo ©: CJ Farquharson
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Victoria's Katie Mactier will return to defend her title against a similar lineup to last year's race. The 32 year-old will again face stiff competition, with some of the strongest women in Australian cycling lining up in the hope of dethroning Mactier, who has her eyes set on track success at this August's Olympic Games.

Europe-based professionals Oenone Wood, Olivia Gollan - both of whom have won the national title before - Natalie Bates and Rochelle Gilmore will be out in force searching for the coveted national champion's jersey in the lead up to next month's Womens' World Cup opener in Geelong. Gilmore in particular has her eyes on this year's title, with the New South Wales rider skipping last week's Jayco Bay Cycling Classic in order to prepare for the race. Gilmore and Wood are arguably the fastest finishers in the field, especially with former road champion Katherine Bates deciding to sit out the nationals to concentrate on her track racing.

However, the southern state sprinters will have a very large, maroon-coloured problem to deal with: the Queensland contingent. The State has a strong track record in producing powerhouse female cyclists, and this year almost a quarter of the 87-strong women's field will be from the Sunshine State. Last year, Nikki Egyed was runner-up in the road race and this year she'll be riding with Athens 2004 Olympic road race champion, Sara Carrigan, as well as 2007 Time Trial champion Carla Ryan.

Sara Carrigan and Olivia Gollan will be strong
Photo ©: CJ Farquharson
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The Queenslanders will be out en masse in the 102 kilometre race and one rider to watch will be the former Australian road champion, Lorian Graham, who will travel to Victoria in a very focused frame of mind. The lightly-built rider, a survivor of the AIS women's road tragedy that took the life of her teammate Amy Gillett, has been steadily improving and no rider will under-estimate her iron-willed determination. To say that Graham would be a popular winner would be an understatement. (A little recognised result in 2007 was Graham's 10th place in the Women's Ronde Van Vlaanderen, or Tour of Flanders, one of the toughest one-day races in the women's international calendar.

Another Queenslander who could feature in the finale is former Tasmanian, Kirsty Broun, especially if she makes a final selection. Broun was recently crowned Australian criterium champion and possesses a very strong finish. Broun is on her way back into the sport after a promising start cut short by glandular fever. She tooktime out and completed her law degree and is now based in Bundaberg, Queensland, where she counts the Davis brothers (Allan and Scott) among her training partners.

Speaking of comebacks, of sorts, the venerable Victorian, Kathy Watt, an Olympic road race gold medalist in 1992, will also be lining up once again. The 43 year-old took out the silver medal in the ITT at last year's AORC and in fact won the ITT in 2006. Watt finished ninth last year in the road race and was in the final slection, and can't be discounted.

Lapthorne ready for tough title defence

Darren Lapthorne knows keeping his national champion
Photo ©: CJ Farquharson
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Victorian Darren Lapthorne returns to the Buninyong course as the defending men's road race national champion, and despite a heavy crash in last week's Jayco Bay Cycling Classic, he is ready to give his all in the hope of retaining the jersey to take to his new European team Sparkassa. The former Drapac-Porsche rider received treatment earlier this week to have more dirt removed from the wounds he sustained in last week's fall, but cuts and bruising have done little to dent Lapthorne's hopes of back-to-back victories.

"It's going to be extremely difficult," Lapthorne told The Advertiser. "This year's race is a lot more difficult, because I am not in a team, but it's not impossible. You just have to be smart, cover the moves yourself - if's definitely harder, but it's still possible.

"It's an extremely tough race to win, but I've trained hard and to wear that jersey again would mean everything," he added.

"O'Grady, Cooke, Matt Wilson and a lot of the top guns raced in the criterium series," Lapthorne said. "I have gained a lot of confidence from Sunday's race, not just because of the win, but also the pace was right on from the start and there was a lot at stake."

In order to retain his national champion jersey, Lapthorne will have to outride almost all of the top riders in Australian cycling. Included in the massive 113-rider field is 2007 Paris-Roubaix winner Stuart O'Grady, 2003 Tour de France green jersey winner Baden Cooke (Barloworld) and fast finishers Graeme Brown (Rabobank) and Allan Davis.

There are also high-quality riders capable of smashing the field apart, such as triple world time trial champion, Michael Rogers, and his former T-Mobile team-mate, Adam Hansen, as well as Trent Lowe (Team Slipstream) and Matthew Lloyd (Silence-Lotto), though the Buninyong course is not that selective to allow the real climbers to assert themselves.

One top rider again missing from the field, however, is Queensland sprinter and 2005 Australian road champion, Robbie McEwen, who last contested the race in 2006. Another high-profile rider missing is Team CSC's new signing, Brad McGee, who is said to be raring to get into the season and stake his claim for the Beijing Olympics.

William Walker could come from the shadows
Photo ©: CJ Farquharson
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Former Discovery Channel rider Davis will also be out to impress this weekend, with Olympic selection and the hunt for a contract for this season at the forefront of the Queenslander's mind.

"I will sit down and talk to the Olympic selectors when I get there and see where the squad is at," Davis told Bundaberg and Regional News Mail. "There will be a few training sessions in Ballarat. I will stick to the normal recovery routine to freshen-up before the road race on Sunday."

While the seasoned professionals will undoubtedly be in contention for Sunday's race, one of Australia's many up-and-coming younger professionals could claim an upset victory in the 163.2 kilometre event.

Among these, one who will be closely watched is William Walker (Rabobank), who won the event in 2006 as an U23 category rider, even though second-placed Russell Van Hout was awarded the Elite Men's jersey. Walker was strong last week in the Bay series but had a fall in the second round, though he recovered to be a strong team worker for Allan Davis (who finished second overall in the series).

Simon Gerrans (Credit Agricole) is also riding well, though relatively quiet during last week's Bay Classic criteriums and observers aren't sure if he was saving his strength for this Sunday, or later this season. Most likely he was riding in support of eventual Bay series winner, Mark Renshaw (Credit Agricole), yet another product of Australia's road and track cycling development program.

The 2005 Under 23 national road champion, Christopher 'CJ' Sutton (Team Slipstream) is another rider capable of mixing with the big-hitters this weekend, and still the list goes on. The road race also contains a host of Australia's American NRC calendar regulars, including Karl 'ten' Menzies, Hilton Clarke, Ben Day, Henk Vogels, and Trent Wilson.

The hugely talented local contingent will have some talent from abroad keeping them on their toes this weekend. New Zealand's Greg Henderson is listed among the starters for Sunday's event as is Dutch rider Koen De Kort and a five rider contingent from Japan.

Getting there: The Buninyong circuit is relatively close to Melbourne and offers excellent vantage points for spectating. Please visit the official site for details on attending the races and further information.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by CJ Farquharson/WomensCycling.net

Images by Mark Gunter/www.pbase.com/gunterphotograph

Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net

Images by Shane Goss/www.licoricegallery.com

Images by Jerome Lessard

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