The host nation took a remarkable five of the six cycling medals on offer in yesterday's Commonwealth Games time trials, sweeping the women's podium and taking the two top spots in the men's event. Oenone Wood, Kathy Watt and Sarah Carrigan made up the women's podium while Nathan O'Neill and Ben Day took the two top spots on the men's. It seemed that only numbers stopped Australia from making it six from six: only two Australians started the men's time trial, leaving the door open for New Zealand strongman Gordon McCauley to grab the bronze.
O'Neill delivered a typically powerful ride, going out fast and, as he put it afterwards, "hanging on" to take the gold medal. On the way, O'Neill passed several highly regarded time trialists including Canada's Svein Tuft and England's Stuart Dangerfield who had one and two minutes' start on O'Neill.
Starting 11 minutes before O'Neill, Ben Day was in no danger of being passed by his team-mate's locomotive effort, but knew it was not going to be easy to beat him. Nevertheless, Day's second half was faster than O'Neill's, reducing the 40 second deficit at the turn-around point to 24 at the finish.
Gordon McCauley was full of admiration for O'Neill's ride. "Nathan put two minutes into me. There's no where I could have made another ten seconds on the course, let alone two minutes, so they deserved to finish first and second," he said. "I'm just happy there were only two Aussies in the field."
Australia's sweep of the women's podium was made easier by the absence of New Zealand's Sarah Ulmer who pulled out hours before the race suffering from a pinched nerve in her back. Nevertheless, Wood, Watt and Carrigan's achievement was a first for women's cycling at the Commonwealth Games, made all the more remarkable by Watt's silver medal performance.
This was the 41-year-old Melbournian's fourth Commonwealth Games and seventh medal of a career that has been characterized by an often stormy relationship with Australia's selection system. Watt won the road race at the 1992 Olympic Games and took silver in the time trial but seemed to spend the 90s in the news more for her battles to get selected for Australian teams than for her achievements on the bike.
After unsuccessfully taking court action against Australian Cycling to try and gain a place on the team for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Watt put cycling on the back burner to concentrate on coaching, photography and her bike shop. But with a Commonwealth games time trial looming on her home roads, she returned to tracing with a passion last year, and made the team by winning the Australian women's time trial championship.
Watt had hoped for better than silver, but said afterwards, "I was hoping to win gold, but the course was a little flat for me, but it's good Australia made it 1-2-3. I thought [being able to ride on home turf] was too good an opportunity to miss, so I trained hard to make it here. I've probably ridden this road thousands of times and I know it pretty well."
Winner Oenone Wood credited Australian women's coach Warren MacDonald with helping her win. "I knew I was in pretty good form coming out of Geelong and New Zealand," she said. "Wazza [Warren McDonald] and I have been doing a lot of time trial training. He was fantastic today in the car. He kept me focused."