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Scody Cup gets underway in San Remo
Darren Lapthorne (Drapac Cycling) makes his way to the team car after finishing second on the stage and riding into the overall lead.
The event is stop four of 12 of the National Road Series where Budget Forklifts' Mark O'Brien has built an 85-point lead over teammate Michael Cupitt following overall victory at the Mersey Valley Tour, the FKG Tour of Toowoomba and the Santos North Western Tour.
O'Brien's season has so far gone to plan but given he is better suited to a hillier parcours than what is on offer at Gippsland, his NRS lead should be challenged come August 5 when the race concludes. Budget however, do have options and should be well in the mix for stage victories courtesy of Luke Davison, Sam Witmitz and Luke Ockerby.
Drapac Professional Cycling just might be the team to beat at Gippsland in 2012 and the team is coming off stints in Asia and Europe. The line-up is all-class and consists of former stage winner and Australian Champion Darren Lapthorne, former Scody Cup-winner Will Walker, Malcolm Rudolph, Rhys Pollock, Lachlan Norris, Stuart Shaw and Peter Thompson. Drapac will be riding for Lapthorne whose form impressed during the Melbourne to Ballarat.
"For us, our priority is still Asia but there's a break in the program the next few months so we're happy to focus on the Scody Cup and re-assert ourselves back in Australia as the number one team," said team manager Jonathan Breekveldt.
"The team is excited to be back in Australia and wants to put on a good show."
Also in top form is Australian Criterium Champion Anthony Giacoppo (Genesys Wealth Advisers) - he took fastest time in the Melboure to Ballarat. The Tasmanian-based team won the event in 2011 with Nathan Haas en-route to his NRS title. Giacoppo, from Western Australia will be well-supported by in-form teammates Pat Shaw and Jai Crawford.
Of the 170-man field, 15 have crossed the Tasman from New Zealand. PureBlack might only have a team of five but should be particularly strong and well and truly in the mix for stage wins via Roman Van Uden, Kiwi road champion James Williamson and Joseph Cooper.
Put simply, "There are 30 riders in the field who could win without surprising," said Scody Cup director, John Craven.
Day one will see the peloton exposed to the elements with a 40km criterium on the San Remo waterfront followed by a dash across the bridge in the afternoon for a 66.75km kermesse on the iconic Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit.
Moe, epicentre for a recent earthquake, is next with a morning criterium followed by a second stage held in the afternoon starting in Morwell and finishing 55.2km later in Yinnar. Day three sees the tour head to Sale where another double dose of racing is on offer. The 102km afternoon stage between Maffra and Dargo should start to see the peloton's endurance tested.
Bairnsdale will once again hold a 30-lap criterium around a rectangular-shaped 1.1km course. The circuit may be flat but the short and narrow corners mean that positioning is vital.
The penultimate stage from Lakes Entrance to Metung could have broken the peloton apart in the 2011 edition if it wasn't for an agreement between the riders to neutralise part of the 69.3km stage after an incident. This year, barring any repeat, a select group could stay away and challenge for line honours. The rolling course has some steep pinches which will put tired legs into difficulty but stronger sprinters will no doubt want another chance before the final stage on Sunday.
The sea-side course around Paynesville will be a welcome sight for the riders. The peloton should negotiate this course with little trouble as long as the weather plays its part. This stage has ended in a bunch sprint over the past two years and with a week of lead-out training completed, the sprint trains will be out in force.