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Jayco Bay Cycling Classic - NE
Geelong, Australia, January 2-6, 2009
By Malcolm Sawford
The 20th edition of the 'World's Fastest' criterium series, the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic, kicks off tomorrow in Williamstown, with arguably the strongest gathering of Australian professional riders assembled for the action packed and crowd pleasing five race series.
Stages two and three run in the picturesque Eastern Park overlooking the Geelong waterfront. Stage two takes in a full circuit of Eastern Park and is just over two kilometres in length. Sunday's Stage 3 is shorter but features two technical corners and a nasty climb to the finish line outside the entrance to the Botanical Gardens.
Both circuits favour aggressive riders with some climbing punch over the out-and-out sprinters, as does the toughest course, Stage four at Port Arlington. The final stage will see the series return to the Geelong waterfront for a classic hotdog circuit on Ritchie Boulevard as the sun sets.
Held in conjunction with the Classic on Sunday is Amy's Ride, with over 3000 recreational cyclists riding around the Bellarine Peninsula alongside the stars of the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic to raise funds for the Amy Gillett Foundation.
Record entries for the 2009 edition will see 16 men's teams and 11 women's teams in action. Preceding the team's racing each day is an amateur men's support race, which has attracted over 100 entries.
Mark Renshaw of Team Mazda, the series winner in both 2007 and 2008, will wear number one as he attempts to become only the second rider to claim three titles back to back. Robbie McEwen of Team Bike Hub/Ridley is the only other rider to achieve this feat and will be aiming for his seventh series win, and has promised a strong fight to try to take an early lead at Williamstown.
The talented field makes predicting a winner something of a lottery. Stuart O'Grady and Skilled teammate Matt Goss are sure to be in the hunt, as is the strong Urban Hotel team with Graeme Brown, 2007 Australian Road Champion Darren Lapthorne and British star Kristian House.
The 02 Reflections team is perhaps the strongest team on paper, with Baden Cooke, Simon Gerrans, Matt Wilson and Jeremy Hunt joining local sprinter Chris Tymms. American team Rock Racing makes its Australian debut. It boasts both reigning US criterium champion Rahsaan Bahati and US Under 23 criterium champion Justin Williams in its line up.
Two young squads from the Victorian Institute of Sport and the New South Wales Institute of Sport will fight for their place. Geelong local Leigh Howard, who dominated international Six Day racing at Under 23 level this year, will lead the VIS. Howard knocked back a lucrative offer to race track in the Tasmanian Christmas carnivals so that he could be in top form for the Bay Classic.
"As much as I love the Tassie races, I want to show the people of Geelong just what I can do," a confident Howard said. "I know I can match it with the best in the world in criterium racing and it's not often you get an opportunity to race against a field of this calibre anywhere in the world. But for it to be in my home town, well that's just perfect."
Last year's winner Megan Dunn was something of an unknown when she became the youngest winner of the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic at just 16 years of age. Still just 17, she is now a triple junior world champion, but will face high-calibre riders – Rochelle Gilmore, Ashlee Ankudinoff, Sky Lee Armstrong and the other great find of the 2008 series, Lauren Kitchen.
The main opposition to the strong NSWIS squad should come from its perennial rivals, the Victorian Institute of Sport. Peta Mullens leads the squad, which contains former AIS rider Helen Kelly, mountain bike specialists Kath O'Shea and Jo Wall and Chloe McConville.
Other riders to watch for include reigning Australian criterium champion Kirsty Broun, who leads the MB cycles team and will have Canadian star Gina Grain for support; and Belinda Goss (Pitcher Partners), who narrowly missed the overall win in 2008. Plan B Racing from Western Australia also has a very strong team, which includes former junior world champions Josie Tomic and Sarah Kent alongside Davina Summers.