Race commissaries were forced to issue a warning to the women's peloton ahead of the final stage of the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic on Thursday, following concerns from a rival team about alleged collusion during Wednesday's Portarlington race. Orica-AIS sports director David McPartland was genuinely shocked that such a situation had occurred.
Orica-AIS rider Melissa Hoskins claimed the yellow jersey from overnight leader Kimberley Wells (Specialized-Securitor) courtesy of her second place finish behind stage winner, Tiffany Cromwell who though entered individually, was wearing her regular Orica-AIS kit.
Cycling Victoria regulations in place for the race state that: Collusion between teams is forbidden as is negative blocking tactics and offenders will be immediately withdrawn and may face further sanction.
No official penalty will be issued, but chief commissaire Laurie Noonan said that measures were likely to be put in place next year to prevent any issues from occurring.
Orica-GreenEdge were in fact hamstrung and placed in the awkward situation courtesy of the fact that individual entrants, Cromwell and Gracie Elvin, were unable to wear any other jersey than their trade team kit. McPartland admitted to Cyclingnews that he was not surprised that the suggestions of collusion had therefore occurred but made clear that there was no directive from team management to collude.
"It is a disadvantage for the others, I'm not going to lie about that," he told Cyclingnews.
Far from a case of sour grapes, concern was more about a plea for a level playing field for all. Teams in line for the classification were subject to an $1100 entry fee along with the $675 for each of their five entrants - making it one of the most expensive races of the season regardless of the status of team. Representatives from Specialized-Securitor were at pains to criticise race organiser John Trevorrow or Orica-GreenEdge but they were pushing for accountability.
"The spectacle that John Trevorrow puts on is outstanding; this race enables women to further their cycling careers. The first stage was fantastic, the second stage was always going to be a tough ask to come up against GreenEdge," Specialized-Securitor team manager Liz Phillippou admitted.
"We had some concerns coming away from the second race because it looked like there was clear collusion,"Philippou continued. "To back that up was the fact that there were a number of girls that weren't listed in the five person team, in terms of the rules, that were still wearing GreenEdge colours. So that creates a lot of confusion for the other competitors. Even the yellow jersey winner by her own admission said 'we had a rider up the road' which as we know was not in the team so she could relax."
Adding to the confusion was the fact that Cromwell explained following her win that because she was racing as an individual she had "free reign" over her race plan.
"It's a big concern for the domestic and local teams here who don't have the same level of funding or support," said Philippou. They've got riders who are aspiring to be a part of GreenEdge but it's important to be sure that the value set that GreenEdge has is a strong one. It puts a question mark over what their standing is in the cycling community."
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