Rachel Neylan's passion for the Australian national championships and the green and gold is no secret. In 2018, though, there is a blue tinge to Neylan’s aspirations of converting past silver and bronze medals into gold on Sunday.
Created in 1980 under the Reynolds team, Movistar launched its first-ever women's team late last year with Neylan selected as one of the 10 riders in its inaugural roster. While a full team debut will have to wait until the 35-year-old returns to Europe, the honour of being the first rider to pull on a race number for the team is not lost on Neylan.
"It is a little bit of a different element because it is a new team but it is not just about me," Neylan told Cyclingnews ahead of the 104.4km race. "It is about sending a message to the whole world that one of the world's biggest sporting brands has adopted a women's team and that has come from every facet of the organisation, including the biggest multimillion-dollar sponsors.
“Tomorrow, pulling on the jersey and getting on that start line wearing Movistar is not about Rachel Neylan. It is about sending a message to the world about the progression of women's cycling and progression of women's sport on the global stage."
Silver in the 2015 road race and a string of early-season results saw Neylan ink a contract with Orica-AIS. After a little over two and a half seasons though, Neylan couldn't turn down the opportunity of becoming a member of the new Movistar team. The opportunity to be the first rider to race in the team colours was another important factor in putting pen to paper.
"The main thing everyone is looking at is the new kit, the big M and the bright blue and I am extraordinarily proud to be the first woman in the 38-year history of the team to wear this jersey," she said. "I am going to wear it with pride tomorrow and I see it as the first step of the next chapter of my career."
With four career medals via a combination of solo and team rides, Neylan is a perennial animator of the Buninyong course. Neylan missed the race last year due to injury but is "very happy and excited to be back at one of my favourite races". And, off the back of a consistent seven-week training block and "proper off-season of recovery", Neylan comes into the race confident of success.
"It is another championship race and I do have the confidence that one of my strengths as a rider is to perform in these big one-day races," said the 2012 Worlds silver medallist. "It is something I am extraordinarily proud of in my career, be that nationals, or the four Worlds I have raced that have been the most outstanding moments of my career."
Riding solo but with a number of former teammates also in the same position, Neylan doesn't expect any favours from anyone out on the course well aware that she is considered a threat to the win.
"There are some hungry girls out there and some girls in really good form. I think tomorrow is probably the most competitive and deep field that we have had for a very long time at the national championships," she said. "There are probably ten girls tomorrow who can win this race. There will be fireworks and it will come right down to the line. Of course, there will be huge tactics in play. No matter how strong you are feeling, whether it is myself, Shara Gillow or Kat Garfoot. We are up against seven Mitchelton-Scott riders. It is not a typical race."
With the winner to earn a place in April's Commonwealth Games road race, Neylan has added incentive for the win. Not that she ever needs any when green and gold are involved.
"Absolutely, it is no secret that green and gold is important in my career," she said of wanting to make the team. "I would like to represent Australia at the Commonwealth games so that is an easy way to get selected by winning the race.in the last couple of years, I haven't entered the national championships not to win so I will be giving it my all.”