By Gerard Knapp
The not-entirely-unexpected withdrawal of the injured Simon Gerrans (Ag2R Prevoyance) from the Australian men's road race squad for the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games has resulted in Aaron Kemps (Liberty-Seguros Worth) being drafted into the national squad at short notice.
Kemps is currently racing in Europe and recently completed the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race for his Spanish ProTour squad, finishing in 113th place on GC. However, the Queenslander was informed on Thursday by Australia's head cycling coach, Shayne Bannan, that his services would be required in Melbourne Sunday week, March 26, for the men's road race.
The selection of Kemps comes after Gerrans was forced to withdraw yesterday due to a post-operative infection in his shoulder, damaged after a nasty tumble in the GP d'Ouverture la Marseillaise, held in France on January 31.
However, the selection of Kemps raises questions over the value of the senior Australian men's national road championship, as 2006 winner Russell Van Hout was once again overlooked for national duties.
Bannan told Cyclingnews that following confirmation of Gerrans' withdrawal, he had spoken to all the reserve riders who were named when the team of six was announced on February 3.
At that time, a surprise omission from the squad was the gutsy South Australian rider, Van Hout, who'd been a key protagonist and stage winner in the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under. Van Hout was only named as a reserve at that time, and once again, the national road champion has missed out on selection for his country.
"Well, we gave him (Van Hout) our reasons, and Russell is understandably very disappointed," Bannan said. "But since the Tour Down Under, Aaron has ridden fifteen races, a mix of one-day and stage races, and he's just finished Tirreno-Adriatico, which is a tough race.
"We feel he's better prepared at this stage," he said, compared to Van Hout and other reserves, who'd not had as much racing in their legs. "So that's what Aaron had over Russell … he (Van Hout) was disappointed, and why wouldn't he be? But at the end of the day our job as selectors is to pick the best possible team," he said.
"And I should add it's not only Russell Van Hout who's missed out; there's also Chris Sutton (Cofidis), who was fifth last year in the U23 world championships road race. But it's the nature of the situation we're in that there is so much depth of talent in Australia, that making a national team is very hard."
Bannan said making the call to committed riders like Van Hout and Sutton "was not easy … and it never will be."
It's expected the Australian team leader for the Commonwealth Games road race will be Kemps' teammate from Liberty and fellow Queenslander, Allan Davis, who is lining up this weekend for the Milan – Sanremo Classic in Italy. Davis was forced to abandon the Paris-Nice stage race due to a stomach illness, but he'd been in good form, running second on three occasions in Paris-Nice to reigning world champion Tom Boonen, who's currently on fire and in sensational form.
The team now includes Davis, Kemps, Ben Day, Mathew Hayman, Nathan O'Neill and William Walker.
(Note: The Australian Open men's road race in January this year was actually won by U23 sensation, Will Walker, followed by Tasmanian and fellow U23 rider Wes Sulzberger. Van Hout was the first senior rider home in third place and was awarded the right to race in that national champion's jersey, recently worn by Robbie McEwen, Matt Wilson and Stuart O'Grady. There were only 26 finishers out of 180 starters.)
Also see: 2004 interview with Aaron Kemps.