By Mal Sawford
The 20th edition of the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic, which will run from January 2 to 6, was launched in bayside Melbourne today by promoter John Trevorrow. A veritable who's who of Australian road cycling will battle for overall honours in the five race series, and many of the stars were on hand at Williamstown's Gem Pier for the race launch as well as some friendly competition in the form of a novel Aqua Bike Challenge.
Eventually joining Baden Cooke, Simon Gerrans, Graeme Brown, Will Walker, Leigh Howard, Matt Wilson, Belinda Goss and Peta Mullens on the water was three time Tour de France Green Jersey winner Robbie McEwen – who was running almost an hour behind schedule with his watch still set on Queensland time.
The first aqua bike heat saw Baden Cooke team with Belinda Goss against Matt Wilson and Peta Mullens. With much pushing and barging it seemed that the two lifeguards on duty would be needed, but fortunately sanity prevailed and Matt and Peta won through to the final.
McEwen arrived just in time for heat two and jumped out of the cab and onto the Aqua Cycle with Under-23 Six Day sensation Leigh Howard against Graeme Brown and Simon Gerrans. Again the fight was on in full force but once Gerrans and Brown got some clear water, it was all over.
In the final Matt Wilson and Peta Mullens showed that a smooth pedaling style will beat a blatant grab for the back wheel every time.
16 men's teams and a record 11 women's teams will contest five races at Williamstown, Port Arlington and Geelong. The riders present at the launch will be joined by the cream of Australia's best riders including defending champion Mark Renshaw, Stuart O'Grady, Matthew Goss, Aaron Kemps, Bernie Sulzberger, women's defending champion Megan Dunn, Rochelle Gilmore and internationals including Rahsaan Bahati, Jame Carney, Kristian House, Evan Oliphant, Gina Grain and Rachel Heal.
The quality of the riders reflects the growing importance of the race series on the international race calendar. "January is becoming an important part of our preparation for the year and the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic is a great way to begin the season," said McEwen, who is hoping to take a record seventh series win in 2009.
Baden Cooke echoed McEwen's sentiments, saying "They are easily the fastest criteriums in the world. I've been riding the series for many years now and it just keeps getting quicker each year. But the 20th addition has the best field I've ever seen line up for a criterium, anywhere! If any event has a right to be called the World Championship criterium, it's the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic.