By Les Clarke
After wearing the leader's jersey at last year's Tour Down Under, Graeme Brown heads into this year's event with the form and results which should see him again challenge in the fast finishes. Brown currently leads the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic by a point following his victory in the Eastern Park criterium.
"We actually went to the Bay Crits to find that last couple of percent heading into Down Under – it's been preparation for Down Under, really," he said. "I may have found that little bit extra earlier than I thought, but hopefully it gives me what I need for Down Under."
Brown has had the measure of both Mark Renshaw (Team Columbia) and Robbie McEwen (Katusha) during this year's Bay Series, but Rabobank's accomplished sprinter isn't writing off either rider's chances of performing in a race they have both historically enjoyed, with results to match.
Asked if he thinks McEwen has slowed down, Brown said: "You can never say that about him because he'll come out and do something amazing at Tour Down Under. A one-hour criterium is different to a four-hour road race. In criteriums he's not the Robbie McEwen of five years ago but in five-hour road races it's a completely different story."
But before Australia's ProTour kicks off with the Down Under Classic on January 18, there's the matter of who will be wearing the national champion's jersey to be decided. Brown said that his pick was Simon Gerrans, but, "He told me yesterday that he's not riding! I don't know... If [Bernard] Sulzberger keeps up this form I don't see why he can't take out the title to go with his criterium title."
Brown remains focused on the task of securing the Bay Series title in today's final round in Geelong, however, and praised the efforts of his composite team, Urban Hotels. "The guys with the Urban Hotels team have been great," said Brown. "I got a start with them at the last minute, and they have basically sacrificed any chances they had to ride for me.
"They don't have to [work for me]; it's not a pro team and they're not getting paid to do it, but yesterday the guys basically ripped the race apart by chasing the breaks and going with attacks," he added. "I think 11 people finished, and although attacks near the end broke it up a bit, my guys were on the front for about 40-45 minutes. Kristian House was unbelievable. If he can do anything like he did yesterday, nobody will get past him today, including me!"
Billed by some quarters as 'The Showdown,' Brown knows he'll have a tough task ahead of him if he's to hold on for the series crown, which continues to be a popular start to the year for Australian cycling fans. "It's going to be a challenge today – I think there are eight guys within reach of winning," he said. "If the eighth-placed guy wins and none of us score points, he can take it. Sulzberger's one point behind, Robbie's three points and Gerro's five points.
"I've got to watch eight guys this afternoon," he added. "I'm pretty sure McEwen, Gerrans, Sulzberger and Windsor will be firing bullets. Two days ago Dean Windsor was firing off bullets left, right and centre... if he does that again today it might hurt!"
See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic.