The Melbourne Commonwealth Games, March 21, 2006
Today's men's and women's time trials, which take place along the coast next to Port Phillip Bay, are shaping up as being tri-nations battles, with Australia, England and New Zealand going in as the three strongest nations. Canada and South Africa will also go into the event as good medal chances, with several strong riders taking to the start at St Kilda Beach.
Riders head out from the beach in a south-easterly direction - 14.5 kilometres for the women and 20 kilometres for the men - before retracing their path back to the finish for a total distance of 29 and 40 kilometres respectively. There are no major climbs, but the wind will be a major factor. Canadian time trial champion Svein Tuft said yesterday that it's a course which favours him. "I like this course a lot. I like that it's windy; right now it is kind of a cross-head wind on the way out and cross-tail on the way back," he said. "The pavement is super smooth, so it's going to be fast. The hardest sections will likely be some of the false flats which are fairly exposed to the wind. You'll have to ride smart, and make sure that you have power left for the return in the tail wind, so that you can really crank it up. I'm feeling really good; ready to rip it."
Australia's Ben Day, speaking in a recent interview on Cyclingnews, also made mention of the lack of climbs and the wind. "There are a couple of little rises up around Black Rock there, which might slow things down, but apart from that it's going to be really, really quick, and we'll see what happens with the wind as well. It may also be a factor - it could be that one way will be a slog and the other way will be incredibly fast."
The overwhelming favourite going into the men's event is Australia's Nathan O'Neill - he won his seventh national time trial title in January in commanding fashion, and teammate Day, who took third in those championships, tips his fellow Queenslander to take the title. In the recent Tour of California, O'Neill was in the running to win the prologue until misfortune prevented him winning against a Pro Tour quality field.
England's Stephen Cummings and young New Zealander Peter Latham could prove themselves dark horses for the win, with Latham taking bronze in the world championships U23 time trial in Madrid last year. Cummings will throw form and experience into the mix, the Englishman recently tasting road race success in Europe. His England teammate Stuart Dangerfield is also a name to watch, as he could easily throw in a time that puts him in the running for a podium spot.
Despite a smaller field than the men's race, the women's event may prove to be an even closer affair than the men's time trial. A strong field that includes Australians Oenone Wood, Sara Carrigan and Kathy Watt and Canadians Sue Palmer-Komar and Erinne Willock will contest the 29 kilometres - and at 41 years old, Australia's Commonwealth Games champion from 1994 and Olympic champion in 1992, Kathy Watt, surely goes into the event as a gold medal chance after her display at the Australian national championships in January. Watt convincingly won the race against the clock on a tough course and was automatically selected for the Commonwealth Games team as a result.
New Zealander Sarah Ulmer, whose world record in the individual pursuit on the track and her blistering form in the recent world cup round in New Zealand would have put her at the front of many observer's lists as the woman to beat, was a late withdrawal due to a back injury. Reigning women's world cup champion Wood will also be well in the mix, along with teammate Carrigan; but with Carrigan the current Olympic road race champion and Wood having two overall world cup victories under her belt, they could be forgiven for having one eye on Sunday's road race, where they'll be teammates and rivals simultaneously.
Overall, the men's and women's time trials look to be two of the most open events at this year's Games, and with a good mix of strong favourites and surprise packets starting today there could be a few unexpected results. Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for all the latest results from Melbourne