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They're away, more than 160 riders leave Buninyong on the 163.2 kilometre 2011 Mars Australian Mens' Open Road Race Championship.
'Quality of Australian talent' forces change
Having long been a bone of contention among riders and fans alike, the Mars Cycling Australia Road National Championships will be run with entries no longer open to international riders.
Race organisers have come under fire in recent years for allowing non-Australians to enter the race and then aid their trade teammates at the event held annually at Ballarat in Victoria. The historical city has been home to the titles since 2007 and will continue to be until at least 2015 after a six-year deal was signed for the 2010 event.
"With the quality of Australian talent vying for the green and gold jersey, international cyclists are not considered integral to upholding the prestige of the Nationals and from 2012 the event has moved to an Australian only field," race organisers said in a statement today, announcing that the 2012 event will be held from Thursday, 5 to Tuesday, 10 January.
In recent years there has only been one winner from the international contingent to have crossed the line ahead of the Australians at the championships with Great Britain's Jeremy Hunt pipping Jamie Drew in 2000.
Two-time national champion Robbie McEwen has been one vocal opponent of the non-Australians entries, saying earlier this year that, "International riders have no business in another country's national championships and I would never ride someone else's national championships."
McEwen, and several of his sprinting compatriots including Graeme Brown and Mark Renshaw have also been critical of the fixed 10.2 kilometre circuit that comprises the 163.2 kilometre road race.
There was no indication in today's release that this too could change for the 2012 event. Road race, time trial and criterium titles are all contested for men and women in both elite and under 23 catergories.