Aussie MTB riders celebrate early success
Twelve Australians will line up this coming Saturday in Reggio Calabria to take part in the 88th edition of the Giro d'Italia. Featuring 20 days of racing with two rest days in between, the first Grand Tour of the year ends on May 29 in Milan, some 3,496 kilometres later.
The Australian contingent is made up of Stuart O'Grady and Matt White (Cofidis), Robbie McEwen, Nick Gates and Henk Vogels (Davitamon-Lotto), Baden Cooke, Matthew Wilson and Mark Renshaw (Francaise Des Jeux), Brett Lancaster (Ceramiche Panaria), Trent Wilson and Russell Van Hout (Colombia Selle Italia) and Rory Sutherland (Rabobank).
"It's fantastic to see the depth of Australian riders in the professional peloton and not just in one or two teams but spread across Europe," said Athens Olympic Games gold medallist, O'Grady. "It will make for some good storytelling for the first 100km of the stages."
Colombia Selle Italia's Trent Wilson will be lining up for his second Giro and is also looking forward to the increased Australian presence, as he wrote in his latest diary on Cyclingnews: "We are going to run amuck in the tour village in the morning with those short blacks and drive the Italians crazy with the Aussie lingo and slang in the bunch in the quiet periods when we're not biting the handle bars," he said.
For O'Grady, lining up in the Giro signals a different approach to his previous Tour de France preparation.
"The Giro suits me a little better than the Four Days of Dunkirk, which has been on my program for the last 11 years," said O'Grady, who lines up after a three week mid-season break. "The new system of ProTour points makes these big races much more important, and I'd prefer to be going up against Petacchi in the sun than racing four days in the cold.
"Our team is hoping for some decent results in the first 10 days, but I have no major objectives for the Giro," said O'Grady. "Petacchi is going 100 percent and not doing the Tour de France - I'm the opposite and this is part of my build up for Le Tour."
McEwen, who scored one stage win and three second placings in Italy last year, is also using the Giro to prepare for France. "I'm aiming for a stage win," said McEwen, although adding he's keen to notch up more stage wins if the opportunity presents itself. "You've got to start with one because you can't get two in one go, and if I get one, I can then work on getting another one.
"Also I want to ride myself into 100 percent health and build up my condition because I've been battling illness," said McEwen, who since February has suffered fever, bronchitis and severe sinusitis, forcing him to take an unscheduled rest from racing. "I've been back racing for three weeks and only back on the bike for a month."
In fat-tyre news, Australians filled the top three places in the mountain bike category of the Sea Otter Classic in California, USA, last month. The opening event for the international downhill calendar was raced from April 14 to 17 in Monterey and saw Jared Graves, Bryn Atkinson and Mick Hannah secure a podium clean sweep for Australia in the overall results (combined slalom, 4X and downhill).
The riders then headed to Spain for the first round of the UCI World Cup DH/4X last weekend. Sam Hill (Iron Horse Mad Catz), Mick Hannah (Haro Bikes) and Nathan Rennie (Santa Cruz Syndicate) filled third to fifth place respectively in the elite men's downhill. Bryn Atkinson (GT Hyundai) and Justin Havukainen finished 10th and 15th.