Six members of the AIS Mapei Aqua Australia development squad will travel to China next week for the Tour of Qinghai Lake. The week-long race is rated 2.HC in the UCI's classification system, the grade just below ProTour status. However, while that status usually indicates a well-established or lucrative event such as Malaysia's Tour de Langkawi, Qinghai Lake gets its props from being an extremely tough event, with climbs to over 4000m in altitude.
Qinghai Lake will therefore be a serious test for the young riders in the AIS development program, which aims to prepare the riders for futures in professional cycling. The Australian system's success is demonstrated by the current Tour peloton, which contains a record 10 Australians.
The team for Qinghai Lake will include Simon Clarke, 18 (VIC), Sean Finning, 20, (VIC) Matthew Goss, 18 (TAS) James Meadley, 21 (ACT) and Matthew Rex, 20 (SA). The five are all members of the Cycling Australia / Australian Institute of Sport Development Program and recently returned to Canberra after several months based in Italy and racing in Europe. Team Pursuit world champion, Peter Dawson, 23, (WA) joins the group after spending most of the season receiving treatment for a niggling injury to his right knee.
"The Qinghai Tour is a great development race for them because it is definitely outside their comfort zone and it toughens them up," said Australian Coach, Brian Stephens who will go to China with the team. "They'll eat food they're not used to, experience sleeping conditions they're not used to and have to combat the effects of racing at altitudes between 2700m and 4000m.
"It's going to be a hard nine days but I'm confident they can make their mark and I'm hoping they can pull off a stage win at least," said Stephens.
Clarke is the 2004 junior teams pursuit World Champion while Goss last year claimed gold in both the Madison and teams pursuit at the Junior Track Cycling World Championships and in March this year made his senior World Championship debut with a bronze medal in the teams pursuit in Los Angeles.
The squad has had an impressive season so far with Goss winning the opening stage of the Tour of Japan in May. Team mate Nic Sanderson, 20, took out the final stage in the same event and the Victorian has stayed behind in Europe after recently earning an internship with the Wurth outfit in Spain. Wurth acts as a feeder team for the Spanish registered Pro Tour team Liberty Seguros. A former rider in the program, Queensland's Allan Davis, is currently racing with Liberty in the Tour de France.