Australia has ended the 2005 Road Cycling World Championships in Madrid on top of the medal table after scoring a podium place in all three divisions. The six gold medals awarded this week went to six different nations with Australia and Spain (three silver medals) the only nations to collect three medals.
Canberra's Michael Rogers, 25, claimed the gold medal to become to the first rider in history to achieve three time trial World Titles in a row while in the women's ranks, world ranked number one and reigning World Cup Champion, Oenone Wood, 25, sprinted home for bronze in the road race. Victorian teenager Will Walker, 19, scored a silver medal in the U23 road race, the first time Australia has medalled in that division on the road.
Australia had hoped to wrap up the Championships with another medal in the men's road race but it was not to be despite the best laid plans of the nine member strong Australian line up. At the end of the 13 lap, 273 km-race Belgian Tom Boonen sprinted home to claim the World Champion's rainbow jersey ahead of Alejandro Valverde of Spain and Anthony Geslin of France.
Robbie McEwen finished 30th in the main field after missing a vital break of 25 riders that formed on the last lap. "It was to be expected they would throw everything into the attacks in the last lap and on the climb was when it happened," said McEwen, who although expecting the split was unable to go with it. "We were hanging about 100 m behind and no one was left who could or would close the gap. I was with (rival sprinters) (Erik) Zabel and (Alessandro) Petacchi and there was no one to close it down.
"Four kilometres to go we realised it was all over and that's the way the race went," he added. "The guys in our team did a great job but I just wasn't able to follow the 25 best guys uphill the last time. So that's racing."
Cycling Australia's Professional Coordinator Neil Stephens, who was the director of the team for the race, admits the new international qualification rules that saw the leading nation rider numbers drop from twelve to nine had an impact in today's race.
"Our plan was to get as many guys as we could to the finish but we had to expend our guys to bring back the (earlier threatening) break which they did a fantastic job doing," said Stephens. "The bad side of that was that Robbie was somewhat alone at the finish when the gap went off the front and we had no one there to bring it back."
"At one point we probably used a couple too many guys that we could have used in the last seven kilometres but you have to react to what's happening at the time," agreed McEwen. "I sort of gambled a bit up the last climb to not close it (the gap to the decisive attack) myself because I thought someone else would but it didn't happen."
Bittersweet day for Wood
It was a bitter sweet birthday for Canberra's Oenone Wood who sprinted home to claim the bronze medal in the women's race on Saturday, September 24, dedicating her ride to Amy Gillett, her former Australian team mate who died in a tragic road accident while training in Germany in July.
In Madrid, the Australian team and staff wore red wrist bands adorned with the words 'In loving memory - Amy Gillett' and Wood said she believed Gillett was riding with her during the 126 km-race. "It hasn't been a fantastic season for the Australians," said Wood, who was moved to tears by the memory of her friend. "In terms of the results, it's been great, but we've had a really hard year and it's fantastic that we've all been able to come together. It's really sad to remember 'Ames' (Gillett), but I think she'll be really happy with the way we rode today."
The Australian women delivered a textbook team strategy as each performed to her individual strengths during the three hour race. Newcastle's Olivia Gollan launched several unsuccessful attacks and was later instrumental in chasing down threatening breakaway riders while Sydney's Natalie Bates set a steady pace on the final climb to discourage anyone from launching an attack. Carrigan tried her hand on lap four but with the experience of Athens no one was prepared to let her gain even a slight advantage. Victorian Helen Kelly did her job early and Kate Bates added the final link in the chain.
The Australians timed their plan to ensure five of the six starters were still in the lead group as the race headed into the final lap and when the 28 or so riders remaining in the front bunch rounded the final corner into the home straight it was Wood's turn to shine. She was well placed behind the perfect wheel being that of Schleicher who in turn was being led out by a well honed German train.
"I was in an awesome position coming into the sprint and I just didn't have the legs to beat Regina, but with a bit more work, maybe I'll get her next year," said Wood who is the first Australian since Anna Wilson in 1999 to claim a medal at a Road Cycling World Championships. "I'm pretty happy with the result. I put myself in the race and all the girls did a really good job today."
Development work paying off
The U23 men's race saw another medal added to the Australian tally when Victorian teenager, Will Walker, sprinted home in second place behind Dmytro Grabovskky of the Ukraine who crossed 26 seconds clear of the Australian after launching a successful solo attack on the final climb of the race. Walker, 19, and his team mate Chris Sutton from Sydney were well placed in the final lap which saw the race split into several attacking groups. At one stage Sutton and another rider jumped off the front of the chasing group to try and reel in Grabovskky but when that failed Walker immediately launched a counter attack and along with Russian bronze medallist Evgeny Popov set up a big enough margin to contest the minor placings.
"We had a good base strategy and I had good legs in the end and took my chances which worked out well," said Walker, who races with the Dutch based Rabobank development squad. "Rabobank has a policy that they want to make you a very good professional so it means staying with the Continental or younger teams a little bit longer before making the step up to the pros and that's working well for me."