The announcement of a new elite women's road race to be held the day before the men's inaugural Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race on February 1, is music to the ears for Australian cyclist Rachel Neylan. The news caps off a stellar week, which included Neylan being named in the Australian National team for La Course by Le Tour de France just a few days earlier.
"I just got the news so I am absolutely thrilled about this race," Neylan told Cyclingnews. "I have had a pretty rocky 18 months with a lot of injury and lot of bad luck, but it is all turning around now. La Course is a big part of that, but so is getting an opportunity to race in front of great crowds back home.
"There is a lot of momentum with women's cycling at the moment, and these events are not just a race, they are symbols of change for us."
It has been a tough 18 months since the Adelaide native took silver at the 2012 Road World Championships in Limburg. After major oral surgery, a season-ending knee injury in 2013 and being hit by a car during a training ride in February, Neylan has endured a "string of bad luck" to say the least.
The former Hitec-Products cyclist is currently racing Thüringen-Rundfahrt in Germany with her Jayco-AIS teammates, including reigning two-time national road champion Gracie Elvin, who is currently in seventh overall, Lizzie Williams, Jenelle Crooks, Jessica Mundy and national criterium champion Sarah Roy, who has two top 5 finishes on the week.
For Neylan, who is targeting a return to the world championships in September, the opportunity to kick-start 2015 on home soil is something that should not be taken lightly.
"Any large scale cycling event that includes a race for women is a bonus for us," she said. "The main challenge for professional women's cycling is to get races that are staged in a way that it exposes the quality of our racing to the public and to the fans.
"If we don't have fans lining the roads, it's not an attractive product to televise and if you don't get television then you don't get sponsors and wheels don't keep turning."
While the official announcement for the new UCI 1.1 classified men's road race was made by former world champion and Tour de France winner Cadel Evans in Geelong on Thursday, the women's race will not receive UCI classification, but instead is "very likely" to be sanctioned by Cycling Australia as the opening round of the women's Subaru National Road Series according to governing body officials.
"Look, we have to be realistic and patient," said Neylan. "Women's cycling has a lot of work to do, but momentum is building so much. For us it's critical to have these races granted even though it's not going to be UCI this year.
"It's just another positive next step and I couldn't be happier."
After her accident in February, the 32-year-old Neylan has been an outspoken advocate of cycling safety awareness for motorists, and claims Evans should be applauded for his role in not only supporting women's racing, but for also supporting cycling in general.
"Cadel is our best known Australian cyclist and he has really brought cycling into the forefront of people's minds and has inspired a lot of people to start riding bikes," she said. "The popularity of cycling in Australia is exploding and we all have him to thank for that."
Inspired by the European spring classics, race organiser – Victorian Major Events Company (VMEC) – collaborated with Evans on the course design which will pass through his Victorian hometown of Barwon Heads and include what Evans' calls "memorable" segments of the 2010 road world championships held in Geelong. VMEC is schedule to push for WorldTour status for the elite men's race, while the organiser could request UCI classification for the women's race for 2016.
"I would just like to personally thank Cadel for his support for women's cycling because I know he wouldn't put his name on it unless there was a women's race, and that's a pretty impressive statement to make from him, as well as the efforts of UCI vice president Tracey Gaudry to push for sanctioning the men's race.
"This is such a great opportunity for us to show all the new cycling fans in Australia that women's cycling is alive and as strong as it has ever been. This is going to be a fabulous event and I am looking forward to it."