By Les Clarke in Mt Torrens
Following William Walker's win in Saturday's national road race championship, Cycling Australia has indicated that in future championship races, Under 23 riders will not race with the senior elite men. This comes after Walker's disappointment and confusion at not having won the elite national champion's jersey despite winning the race in commanding fashion.
"You're kidding" was the 20-year-old's first response when given the news that he wouldn't be wearing the Australian champion's jersey during 2006. Walker was initially diplomatic, saying, "I think that's disappointing. I can't really understand those rules but I guess that's life."
Cycling Australia CEO Graham Fredericks said that the rules on awarding the jerseys were fairly simple. "There are jerseys awarded to both elite and under-23s. So that is the first reason for it. And the second reason isn't in the rules, but really he is never going to get a chance to wear it - it's simply going to be two categories of racing. He will be wearing a national champion's jersey and so will an elite rider.
"[That is] the way the rules are written - and we reread them half way through the race as we could see the possibility occurring.
"The under-23 division has been evolving for as long as we have run this race. In the last two years we have had a completely separate set of medals for under-23," said Fredericks, before continuing, "We have had about 40 entrants in previous years and this year we had over 60."
"The board of Cycling Australia made a decision about six months ago that in the new round of bids for national championships there will be a separate under-23 race from 2007 onwards. So Willy Walker has the honour of being the first person to ever win both, and he will also be the last," Fredericks explained, before adding that, "The UCI has a rule for under-23 and elite champions so how we interpret that in our rule - and we probably didn't write it with this in mind - is quite clear; an elite and an under-23 jersey will be awarded."
After finishing his day early, 2005 Australian champion Robbie McEwen was asked if separating the two categories of riders would improve the race. "It would open it up for under-23 guys who, say, missed the break; it would give those guys a different race. It wouldn't change ours all that much," commented McEwen.
"I don't think [it devalues the jersey]. Probably no one else in the world would really know [who won the race]. You have to look at the level of the field and these guys who are not used to riding in bunches that big at that speed and maybe that's why that crash occurred. But it can happen anywhere. It can happen in the best bunch in the world," he said.
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