Australian road nationals to contain highly competitive field

Among the nearly 600 entries received for the Cycling Australia Road National Championships, which begin on Wednesday, are some of the nation's most exciting road cyclists. The three national championship events, time trial, criterium and road race, are to be held over five days with expectations that thousands of spectators will be attracted to the races in Ballarat, Burrumbeet and Buninyong.

The signature events of the championships are the weekend road races which will feature potentially the best line-ups seen in its history. Headlining the entries for Sunday's men's road race is 2011 Tour de France champion Cadel Evans who will partake in the race for the first time since 2005. Evans will face a tough task to win the green and gold jersey as he will be the only BMC rider on the start line.

Also lining up for a shot at victory are 2013 yellow jersey holder and 2012 national champion Simon Gerrans, 2013 Paris to Nice winner Richie Porte, 2012 Vuelta de España mountain classification winner Simon Clarke, plus reigning champion Luke Durbridge.

Orica-GreenEdge are fielding a strong team and will be favourites to provide a third consecutive victor in the men’s race. They will however face stiff competition from Drapac who are targeting the race in what is their biggest season so far to date. The Australian outfit is competing at Pro-Continental level for the first time in 2014 and have secured a wildcard invitation to the Tour Down Under.

Garmin-Sharp's Steele von Hoff, who podium in the criterium and road race in 2013, is hoping go one better this year and his campaign will be helped with several teammates to call upon for support.

"Every year I've been getting closer and closer but with a season of racing in the Pro Tour under my belt, I might be strong enough," von Hoff said.

"Tour Down Under is a very big race for me, and also Herald Sun Tour so I've got a pretty big Australian campaign this year. I can't be peaking too early but at the same time, this phase is really important for me so I can't be out of form right now."

The women's field for Saturday's road race will see a formidable ORICA-AIS line up including reigning champion Gracie Elvin, 2012 champion Amanda Spratt, Olympic bronze medallist and recently crowned national madison and omnium champion Annette Edmondson plus three-time reigning time trial national champion Shara Gillow.

The challengers to the strong outfit include Tiffany Cromwell riding in her new colours for Specialized-lululemon, 2013 National Road Series champion Katrin Garfoot, under 23 MTB world cup series winner Rebecca Henderson and national mountain bike champion Peta Mullens who is coming off a successful Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic in which she won the green jersey.

"The course suits me and I'm very motivated," said last year's runner-up Cromwell. "I've been trying to get that jersey for a lot of years now and the best I've finished is second."

Cromwell came second overall in the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic held the weekend before the championships and has been building form in preparation for the road race.

"I'm with a different team now with Specialized-lululemon and I have some strong teammates to support me and I'd love to be able to take that jersey overseas and to race in it all year," Cromwell said. "It would be a huge honour and it's a big goal for this season,"

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