By Paul Verkuylen
A national title that, for some, is the first race of a long season is a tough way to begin a season. For many of Australia's top professionals the race is just another test of how their training has progressed during the off-season. Other's have targeted the race and built up their form accordingly. The green and gold jersey of national champion has gone from one of obscurity to one held in very high regard by riders and teams alike in the past ten years.
Once there was a time when, professional teams would not let a rider use the national colours over that of their trade team colours. Now, having the green and gold incorporated into the design is favoured by the team and riders alike. "You get special kit, different socks and different helmet and paintjob on your bike, so it's something special to have," Rabobank's Matt Hayman explained.
This year's title seems to have captivated almost all of Australia's European and American based pro's, and most have turned up prepared for a tough race. Australia's domestic squads, such as Drapac Porsche and FRF couriers have also fielded strong squads that could snatch the title out from under the noses of their more favoured rivals, as Darren Lapthorne did last year.
Many of the top riders have learned from last year's edition and will be keeping tabs on not just the rivals they know from racing in Europe. "A lot of local guys have earmarked this race as the biggest race of the season," Hayman explains.
"It is so hard to tell [who the favourites are], so years you see guys who have been really strong in the Bay Crits, and it turns out they don't do much at the nationals, the racing that we have done, weren't just the sprinters," Simon Gerrans (Credit Agricole) explained.
Last years winner, Lapthorne along with William Walker and Alan Davis have been earmarked by many of the riders as the ones to watch out for, with Lapthorne the most prominent on everyone's lips after an impressive performance at the Bay Series last week, but with a lack of racing to compare everyone's form, the race could well be a lottery.
"There is probably about ten guys that I think could win," Baden Cooke concluded.