The fledgling Specialized Women SA team is firming in favouritism for the NSW Grand Prix Series which will be held Saturday and Sunday in just their second outing. The two-day criterium series held in Wollongong and Cronulla has again attracted a top class line-up with the women's field expected to produce some highly aggressive and competitive racing with the cream of current Australian crop set to take the start line.
The Specialized Women SA outfit's manager and rider, Liz Phillipou told Cyclingnews that she was impressed by what the team managed to achieve in their first-up performance at the Noosa Grand Prix earlier this month, where they claimed a spot on the podium through Trudy Van Der Straaten who was second to Nicole Cooke (BikeExchange.com.au Dream Team).
"When I was writing that down I did think that is was maybe a bit ambitious but I was really impressed by the way the girls rode," Phillipou. "Trudy and Bec [Rebecca Werner] were our most consistent in covering breaks. They're really punch riders and they've both had a lot of experience racing crits in the US so that really helped."
Van Der Straaten and Werner will again need to fire this weekend with Phillipou and Narelle Hards joined by former Australian Under 23 Criterium Champion Chloe Hosking and former Australian Road Champion and world champion on the track, Katherine Bates fresh from competing at the Oceania Track Championships in Invercargill. Both Hosking and Bates will be making guest appearances for the team at Sunday's race at Cronulla.
Given the omission of Rochelle Gilmore and Nicole Cooke from the BikeExchange.com.au Dream Team for the series, the Specialized Women SA team will be looking to assert themselves on the front of the race in preparation for a tight sprint finish.
"Not to write off the rest of Rochelle's team, Peta [Mullens] and Kirsty [Broun] are still amazing sprinters but I think we'll probably outnumber them and we'll try and play off that fact and get our train going on the front for the last few laps," said Phillipou.
Gilmore, who is recovering from recent surgery ahead of her 2012 Olympic Games tilt, acknowledged the threat to her team.
"The Specialized team is probably the strongest team," the reigning Commonwealth Road Champion told Cyclingnews. "They've got two sprinters who are equally as fast or faster than we've got in Kate Bates and Chloe Hosking so they're also two of the best sprinters in Australia so working together they could be unbeatable."
Adding to the high-quality women's field will be Amanda Spratt, Jesse Maclean and Shara Gillow, all racing for Jayco AIS. Hosking told Cyclingnews she was relishing the challenge of competing against her national teammates from September's UCI Road World Championships in Copenhagen.
"Shara, Spratty, Jesse were at the world championships with me and to have them all supporting this event, is really good," she explained. "I'm excited to be able to support the event in itself and also the Specialized Women's Team.
"My training definitely has not been geared towards criteriums. I'm still very much in my endurance block so I just want to go out and really try and perform for Liz's team."