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After an enthralling Tour de France, in which Australia was able to celebrate their first Tour winner with Cadel Evans, racing returns Down Under with the Lakes Oil Tour of Gippsland.
The Tour of Gippsland is the fourth event in the National Road Series (NRS), and also kicks off the prestigious Scody Cup. The Cup includes races like the Tour of Tasmania, and rewards racers who are consistent over the second half of the Australian season.
The race boasts a field of some 156 riders from Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. Racing will take place over five days covering 520 kilometres in nine gruelling stages. Wednesday through Saturday the riders will face up to double-stages before the customary final day criterium finish in Paynesville on Sunday.
Historically those who have done well in Tour have gone on to bigger and better things. Previous winners include Tour de France rider, Wes Sulzberger, HTC-Highroad sprinter Leigh Howard and New Zealand’s Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Gordon McCauley. Last year's race saw the emegence of another talent in New Zealander Rico Rogers, who has just come off a stage win at the difficult Tour of Qinghai Lake in China.
Returning to defend his title is Genesys Wealth Advisers' Pat Shaw, who proved his form in June by taking out the title in the Tour of Toowoomba. He'll be joined by Mersey Valley and Canberra Tour winner, Nathan Haas who has flagged the NRS title as one of his big goals in 2011. Pat Jonker's Jayco-2XU team will also be in the hunt with Chris Jongewaard, Luke Davison, and Rhys Gillet all likely to feature.
The biggest competition however may come in the form of the Continental Jayco-AIS squad particularly with sprinter Richard Lang, who returns to the Tour with some big aspirations. The New South Welshman failed to fire in last year's race but was ever-present in 2009.
"I would love to get my name on the honor board as a winner of the Tour of Gippsland," commented Lang before the race. "But, none of these Scody Cup races are easy to win, so we'll just have to see."
Whoever does take the Tour victory on Sunday will take that little edge into the next round of the Scody Cup and for that reason alone that racing will be fierce in Gippsland.