Jai Crawford and Sam Davis (Huon Salmon-Genesys) working hard on the front of the bunch
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Cooper, Huon Salmon-Genesys dominant in National Road Series opener
The inaugural Woodside Tour de Perth was granted the honour of hosting the opening round of the Subauru National Road Series and after four days of racing we witnessed four different winners and the crowning of a new NRS leader, a New Zealander from Australia's number-one domestic team; Joseph Coooper from Huon Salmon-Genesys Wealth Advisers. Before the next round kicks-off from the other side of the country, here are some conclusions from the first official race of the 2013 NRS season.
Mixed feelings for Rottnest Island
The car-free island of Rottnest, or 'Rotto', situated 18 kilometres off the coast of Fremantle was the location for the first two days of racing. It was nothing short of a logistical challenge to transport the 140-rider peloton, team staff and race organisation over to the island for two stages and while it was a relatively timely affair, the soggy conditions made the journey a little more arduous.
The island is a beautiful location to visit and race organiser Craig Smith-Gander did his best to showcase the scenery while providing a course that utilised the largest circuit possible - all 20-odd kilometres that circled the island for a 80km road race and 20km time trial.
Smith-Gander had described the course on Rottnest akin to that of the Ardennes classics - without the hills - and this was certainly the case. Narrow roads, a twisting course and a peloton charged with enthusiasm for the first race of the year made for a nervous opening day that was highlighted by a race-winning breakaway. That was the day that helped Cooper to set-up his overall win while those left in the bunch fought for the front as crashes and punctures ended the race for many. Without a following convoy of team vehicles and with such a high-speed race, it made coming back from a mechanical near impossible.
Day two was for the TT specialists with a course almost identical to the prior day's road race. A representative from each team was instructed to line the 20km course, one for every kilometre, but the miserably conditions meant that some riders who punctured were forced to ride multiple kilometres before reaching assistance. The lack of race support for the road race and TT is perhaps something that needs to be assessed for future editions -especially with the proposed UCI status upgrade in the coming years.
Two days on the mainland
The final two days were held in and around Perth with Stage 3 providing a tougher-than-expected course along similarly technical roads to that experienced on Rottnest. The Kalamunda road race was a battle between Huon Salmon-Genesys and the rest of the peloton. The course was hard enough to sort out the contenders from those with over-zealous ambitions with the climb up Zig Zag offering something different to the wide-open races found in many of the other NRS races throughout the year. A significant delay to the start time was not appreciated by the anxious peloton but with the race heading to the Perth Hills for the first time, a few transport and organisational teething issues must be taken into consideration.
Bold Park was not your average final day but with just four relatively short stages, the last day needed to retain the interest of racers and followers alike. The course delivered a more or less flat course but with three final laps sending the peloton up a fierce climb inside the coastal park. This forced the selection on each lap and added another element rarely seen in past tours that do little to sway from the bland-format circuits for criteriums and kermesses. This was arguably the best stage of the tour with the winner not certain until the final few metres.
Winners are grinners
A revitalised Jack Anderson (Budget Forklifts) got his team off to a winning start on Rottnest and demonstrated that the team which won the first three tours of the NRS in 2012 will be a force once again this season. Anderson's renewed passion for racing since returning to Australia should see him return to the top step a number of times this year. Third-place on the day Neil Van Der Ploeg (search2retain-health) was disappointed to miss out on what should have been a win for the former mountain biker but the versatile rider appears to be proving once again more than capable over flat or hilly terrain.
Kiwi TT champion Joe Cooper may have missed out on giving Huon Salmon-Genesys a stage win in the opening day around Rottnest - when two orange-clad riders were present in the break of eight. However, his TT dominance the following day was enough to give him the stage win and move him into a near unreachable lead which his team would defend for the final two days.
Nathan Earle put his stamp on the bunch to win Stage 3 and proved for the second time this year - in Australia - that he is the man to beat when the race includes a hill-top finish. The resurgence of Adam Semple (Satalyst-Giant) was also a pleasant surprise after the Western Australian continues his come-back from injury. Huon Salmon-Genesys were no doubt the strongest team that day, closing down anything that moved including the incessant attacking from Budget Forklifts before giving Earle the signal to fly - after following the attack from Semple.
The final stage around Bold Park in Perth City was no yellow jersey parade. This was, according to Smith-Gander a make or break day for the GC but Huon Salmon were up to the task of defending the lead of Cooper while Earle cleaned up the KoM classification on the testing final laps where he took maximum points on each of the three ascents.
The day's winner celebrated with an animated salute appropriate for this particular victory. Scott Law wanted to prove the pundits who suggested GPM-Data#3 weren't up to scratch wrong and did it in the best way possible on the final day of racing. Expect Law to be amongst the sprints this year as his sets his eye on stage wins and perhaps GC success.
A taste of things to come
It was hard to look past the strength of the Tasmanian squad of Huon Salmon-Genesys as they returned to the East with a collection of Perth memorabilia. The yellow jersey, KoM classification, best Western Australia rider via Anthony Giacoppo, team classification and early lead in both the individual and team NRS standings is hard to look past. Add five riders to the top-ten on GC including Cooper and it's obvious the team had the most depth in the first race of the year.
The upcoming tour at Battle on the Border includes a shorter time trial and a hill-top finish on the final day. Fishing out potential winners for the tour is not difficult; there's a number of teams who could place someone near the top of the standings but to pinpoint a single rider after just once tour is not so simple.
Teams like Budget Forklifts, search2retain-health, Satalyst-Giant, Euride Racing, GPM-Data#3 and perhaps Target-Trek should be around the mark but with the collective strength of Huon Salmon-Genesys the peloton will have to be aggressive in order to catch them out.
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