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Australian Road Cycling Championships - NE
Sunshine Coast, Australia, September 3-11, 2005
By John-Michael Flynn at Peregian Springs - Sunshine Coast, Queensland
Returning to the happy hunting ground which brought a breakthrough victory in the sport she so dearly cherishes, injured A.I.S. cyclist Lorian Graham today spirited in the start of competition at Australia's National Club Road Cycling Championships on the Sunshine Coast.
Still nursing a shattered kneecap from the horror crash which claimed the life of her 'cycling sister' Amy Gillett and seriously injured four other team-mates, Graham urged Australia's next generation of women's cyclists to aim up, with nine days of racing about to get underway.
It was on the Sunshine Coast in 2002 where Rockhampton born Graham was first noticed by scouts from Australia's elite national program, upon winning a gold medal in the criterium event.
"It was fantastic to receive a first gold medal for any athlete that's an amazing achievement," Graham recalled of her experience. "But its also you know, it pushes you onto the next goal, with results, that's what's kept me going."
The message couldn't come louder or stronger for the hundreds of competitors, both junior and senior, women and men, who will take to the streets of Queensland's Sunshine Coast chasing individual and Club glory in road races, time trials and criterium events.
Success here, according to Graham, will go a long way to securing a future in the sport and the advice from Australia's Open Female Road Champion is straight to the point.
"You go in there in contention to actually win the race. It's a learning race and in that way it's a learning race for the bigger races you have to experience overseas," Graham said. (An interview with Lorian Graham will follow.)
Fields on the improve
While it has taken some years to establish the Club Road Nationals as a viable event on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, event promoters United Sports Marketing had plenty to smile about at today's launch with race fields across the board on the increase.
Noticeably, the Elite Men's Road Race, to be held on the second Saturday of the event is shaping as a serious contest of quality riders. Many of Australia's top domestic cyclists will line up against a field that includes a smattering of second-tier pro's returning early from the European season.
"The elite guys, I think we had 45 competing last year in the elite road race, this year we've got 75," USM's Geoff Meyer told Cyclingnews. "A lot the European based guys are back here and now competing at the Nationals which is fantastic."
Riders to watch out for will include perennial contender and many times medalist at this level, Peter Milostic of the Penrith Panthers club. Tough competition is also expected to come from local strongman Jaaron Poad (Ffast - Brisbane) who performed solidly in the 2004 Tour of Queensland and Grand Prix Criterium series.
Questions though will hang over Poad's ability to handle the pinch climbs on the tough Yandina road course, where a host of talents including Australian development rider Jonathon Cantwell (Lifecycle) will be looking to capitalize.
While the event doesn't attract the likes of McEwen, O'Grady, McGee and Evans to the Sunshine Coast, for Australia's burgeoning second-tier of future cycling stars, it's an opportunity to impress those who matter.
"This is pretty much a really exciting time because this is where you find your new Robbie McEwens, your Bradley McGee's and Stuart O'Grady's of the future," according to USM's Geoff Meyer. "We've had guys last year that have gone on, Scott Sunderland for example who won three gold and a silver last year and went on to the world junior titles and he won two medals there this year."
Golden glow for women's program
Three events are scheduled for the Elite Men and Women contesting the National Road Cycling Championships, commencing next Thursday 8th September with the time trials , followed by Saturday's road races and Sunday's criteriums.
Already a talking point is the women's time trial (won in 2003 by Amy Gillett) where the list of contenders includes former Olympic Gold Medalist Kathy Watt, who'll be hot pursuit of a berth in the team for the Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
By tragic consequence the accident which tore apart the Australian Women's Road Program has opened up opportunities for other riders on the verge of national selection and while Lorian Graham hasn't entirely given up hope on being at the start line in Melbourne, the reigning Aussie champion wishes the ageless Watt and her younger peers all the best.
"I give her credit, because she's chasing what I'm chasing, she just wants that ultimate glory."
Packed junior program
By no coincidence, today's opening of the National Road Cycling Championships came hand in hand with the first day of Spring in the paradise which is Queensland's Sunshine Coast. Fringed by some of the world's most magnificent ocean beaches and a hinterland dotted with the mythical Glass House Mountains, Australia's Sunshine Coast is a mecca for athletes in training.
Every year, the famed Noosa triathlon brings multi-sport enthusiasts (and cyclists) in their tens of thousands to experience the ambience of one of Australia's leading holiday destinations. Local sporting identity Benny Pike quipped at their being 'three clouds up there' as he gazed skyward from the serene surrounds of the Peregian Springs golf club, where today's launch was hosted.
It's no surprise then, perfect warm conditions are expected for the official start to the race program on Saturday when Australia's top young talents in the 15 and 17 year age groups converge on Yandina for a busy day of road racing. Fifty two riders in the Under 15's and 70 riders in the Under 17's will fight out the junior men's titles, while in the junior women's category 24 cyclists will contest the under 15 age group and 30 riders in the under 17 age group.
Cycling Australia's National Development Co-ordinator Tom Skulander believes it's the Sunshine Coast atmosphere, just as much as the competition which is attracting the riders, and more importantly their families.
"Juniors can't compete without their parents," Skulander told Cyclingnews. "This type of an event is a reward for the parents as well, they come away for a week and they have a good holiday in a really nice place. They get to compete in a good competition that's well organized."
Cyclingnews will be providing regular results and updates throughout the championships.