Australian cyclist Oenone Wood, 24, has regained her world number one status and the performances of Australian women cyclists have pushed them back to the top of the nations list in the latest rankings released yesterday by the UCI. "This is really the result of a ten year development program and demonstrates the value of the hard work put in place by James Victor (National Women's Coach until 2004) and carried on by Warren McDonald (current National Women's Coach)," said Australian Head Coach, Shayne Bannan. "What is even more pleasing is the depth of riders being developed and I see no reason why we can't have the number one status or close to it for the next four to six years, such is the quality of riders we are producing."
Wood, who last year claimed overall honours in the World Cup Series and is currently sitting second in the 2005 Series, has 384 points to be 15 points ahead of reigning World Champion, Judith Arndt of Germany while in the nation rankings Australia has 735 points ahead of traditional cycling power houses Germany, on 683 points, and the Netherlands on 537 points.
"I don't really keep track of it because you don't want it to go to your head," said Wood, downplaying her achievement. "It's good to have it and I've been consistent but I don't feel I've had any brilliant performances yet this year. It will probably have more meaning to me if I am still on top at the end of the year!"
The reigning Australian road time trial Champion was number one in the March rankings, after strong performances in the Geelong Tour and Geelong World Cup, but dropped to second in April. However her two recent World Cup performances, second placing in Belgian World Cup and a fifth placing in the Spanish World Cup, have pushed her back to the top rank.
Both Wood and Arndt compete with the German registered Team Nürnberger outfit, also number one on the professional team rankings, and the Australian is a lot more excited about achievement of the team which she and fellow Australian Olivia Gollan joined this season. "Nürnberger is an awesome team," said Wood, who is based near Frankfurt during the European season. "In a recent tour in Spain (Vuelta Castilla y Leon) we rode really well as a team and won all three stages and the overall. It's amazing to be on such a great team!"
Sydney's Rochelle Gilmore, 23 (Safi - Pasta Zara Manhattan), who claimed victory in the opening World Cup round in Geelong in February, is the other Australian in the top ten at eighth with 145 points. Queensland's Sara Carrigan, 24, is ranked 19th on 75 points with her Olympic performance not counted in the new ranking system which started in January this year with all riders on zero points, and Katie Brown, 22, sister of dual Athens gold medallist, Graeme, is 20th on 73 points. "Katie was second in a major Belgian race recently and has been the big surprise this year," said Australian Head Coach Bannan. "Plus we have other youngsters like Alexis Rhodes, 20, (SA) and Amanda Spratt, 17, (NSW) coming through who are sure to stake their claim in the next few years."
Spratt last year claimed third place in the junior road time trial at the Road World Championships in Italy and won gold in the points race at the Junior Track World Championships in Los Angeles. Rhodes was the 2002 individual pursuit Junior World Champion and claimed points race gold at the 2004 Australian Championships and 2004 Sydney World Cups on the track.
But Bannan emphasises that the riders he describes as the 'so-called veterans' are themselves only young in cycling terms. "The likes of Oenone, Sara, Kate Bates and Rochelle are all still under 25 whereas if you look at the other major countries their riders are in the 27 to 35 range," said Bannan. "They have at least another five to six years and maybe more depending on whether they stay in the sport."