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Austral Wheelrace - NE
Melbourne, Australia, February 14, 2009
Perkins powers to Austral crown
Regular pep talks from Victorian football legend Tom Hafey continue to pay dividends for Victorian cyclist Shane Perkins, who tonight added his name to the illustrious Austral Wheelrace honour roll, after winning the 111th edition at Hisense Arena in Melbourne.
One of the world's oldest cycling races, the Austral Wheelrace has long been the most prestigious track race to win on Australian soil, previous winners including Danny Clark (1977, 1986 and 1990), Gary Neiwand (2000) and the remarkable Sid Patterson (1962 and 1964).
The 22-year-old Victorian, who started off the backmark (15 metres), led for the entire last lap, and despite a late challenge from Malaysia's Azizul Awang, held on to take out the 2000m race by half a bike length.
The four-time national champion's victory was popular amongst the punters as he was backed into equal $2 favouritism with Awang. Starting off 30 metres, Awang, the Asian keirin champion, came up on Perkin's shoulder with one lap to go; however, he was forced to play bridesmaid for the second year in a row.
Australian Institute of Sport rider Jason Niblett (90 metres) finished third.
Perkins who has overcome significant personal problems on and off track over the last 12 months, including a suspension prior to the Beijing Olympics for disciplinary reasons, heaped praise on his family, friends, support staff and Hafey after the win.
"Tommy's been great. He's a fantastic guy, I sat down with him a few weeks before the nationals and it's been great to get his feedback," said Perkins, who was introduced to Hafey through his grandfather, 1943 Richmond premiership player Polly Perkins.
"It's fantastic to win this race. My dad raced it and I've grown up in cycling watching this race - Neiwand, Pate, these sorts of guys over 111 years, it's a prestigious list."
Perkins was full of admiration for VIS teammate Joel Leonard. "We had a good train going, Joel did a mountain of work to get us to the front, and that helped our cause," he said.
Since missing the Beijing Olympics, Perkins has been on a barnstorming victory ride, collecting gold at the UCI Track World Cup in Melbourne and four gold medals at the recent national track titles in Adelaide. He will now turn his attention to the world track championships in Poland, where his main focus is the team sprint.
Perkins progressed through to the final without raising a sweat, confirming his favourite status amongst the bookies. His task was made that little bit easier when the in-form South Australian Jack Bobridge, who was one of only two riders starting off scratch, was knocked out in heat six, whilst last year's winner Jackson-Leigh Rathbone (15m) was also eliminated in the same heat.
The night wasn't a complete waste for Bobridge, who won the elimination and scratch races, edging out New South Wales speedster Ben Kersten on both occasions.
In the junior Austral wheelrace, New South Wales teenager Tiran McManus took out the event ahead of Bendigo's George Tansley, with Queensland's Robert Bell finishing third. Tansley took out the Teschner Future Stars boys points score, whilst Carnegie Caulfield's Stephanie Hansen conquered in the girl's event.
Queensland's Jesse Kerrison won the boy's Teschner Future Stars scratch race and Bendigo's Imogen Jelbart the girl's race.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Andrew White/www.fyxomatosis.com
1 Shane Perkins (Aus) Victorian Intitute of Sport 2 Azizul Awang (Mal) Malaysian National Team 3 Jason Niblett (Aus) Australian Insitute of Sport