A record field of 670 riders will contest the Australian National Open Road Championships, which run January 6-11. The event brings together Australia’s best to contest a criterium, road race and time trial for the coveted green and gold jersey.
The event kicks off with twilight criteriums. The under-23 men will race 33km in the heart of Ballarat. Daniel Braunsteins is the defending champion, but the Drapac Porsche rider has battled illness over the past few months. His team-mate Tom Palmer impressed in the Sydney criterium series last month and is the red hot favourite to take the title if it comes to a bunch sprint.
“I’m feeling good,” Palmer told Cyclingnews. “I used the Jayco Bay Series as a warm-up. Unfortunately I fell pretty hard at Portarlington on Monday. I had a fall on Tuesday and started to feel a bit better today. I have a strong team with Michael and Adam Phelan and Adiq Othman, so I have the right guys around me, and they are strong riders, so we have plenty of cards to play during the race.”
Palmer’s main challengers will come from the Genesys Wealth Advisers trio of Ben Grenda, Tom Robinson and new recruit, Kane Walker. Scott Law will lead the Virgin Blue-RBS Morgans squad. Jayco AIS riders, Aaron Donnely, Malcolm Rudolph and Alex Carver are also in contention.
Carly Light is the defending women’s champion and Chloe Hosking was last year’s under-23 winner. The 33km race is wide open but if the Honda Dream Team ride like they did at the Bay Crits, Rochelle Gilmore will be hard to stop. There are many other riders in with a chance however, including Nicole Whitburn, Joanne Hogan, Alex Carle, Lauren Kitchen, Emma Mackie and Bridie O’Donnell.
The men’s race will cover 44km and Pegasus rider Aaron Kemps is the 2010 champion His preparation has been disrupted however, although he did find some confidence during the Jayco Bay Criterium Series.
“With what has happened in the last couple of weeks with Pegasus, as well as the floods in Bundaberg, where I live, I haven’t had the best preparation. I’m feeling like I’m getting better every day," said Kemps. "Hopefully the team can get a win, not only in the criterium, but also the road race."
Corset and Meyer out to defend titles
The Championships will continue in Buninyong on Saturday with the 122km Under-23 road race in the morning, followed by the combined 104km women’s elite and under-23 race in the afternoon.
Michael Hepburn will be looking to repeat his win from last year and will face tough competition from Joe Lewis, Palmer, Nick Aitken, Kane Walker, Alex Carver, Adam Phelan, Ben Grenda and Nathan Haas, all whom are riding well at the moment.
Ruth Corset won the elite women's event last year with Megan Dunn securing the under-23 title. This race features many contenders, most notably Amber Halliday, Bridie O’Donnell, Vicki Whitelaw, Emma Mackie and Alexis Rhodes for the elite race and India MacLean, Alex Carle, Emma Lawson and Amy Cure for the under-23 race.
On Sunday, the men’s road race will continue the program with the biggest field in history. Five former winners in Robbie McEwen, Matt Wilson, Darren Lapthorne, Peter McDonald and Travis Meyer will aim to collect another green-and-gold jersey.
Travis Meyer (Garmin-Transitions) is the defending champion and he knows it’s going to be tough. “It’s a strong field this year. It’s getting harder and harder every year. It will be a hard race. My form is coming along nicely and I hope I do well,” said Meyer.
Team Sky enjoys a strong contingent of riders, headed by Simon Gerrans, Chris Sutton and Michael Rogers. They'll face the likes of Wes Sulzberger (Francaise des Jeux), Bernard Sulzberger and Luke Roberts (Pegasus), Richie Porte (Saxo-Bank), Allan Davis (Astana), Graeme Brown and Michael Matthews (Rabobank)
There's also Will Clarke (Luxembourg Project), Matthew Goss and Mark Renshaw (HTC-Columbia) to contend with, in addition to domestically-based cyclists such as Pat Shaw, Joel Pearson, Rhys Pollock, Stuart Shaw and Andrew Roe.
Time trial finale
In what is a strange move by Cycling Australia, the time trials will complete the championships on Tuesday - as the elite men's road race is the most prestigious event it's usually last on the program.
The under-23 time trial will kick off proceedings with the young riders covering 27.1km at Learmonth. Rohan Dennis will be looking to repeat his win in 2010, but will find it tougher this year with Luke Durbridge wanting to make amends for his second place last year. If Durbridge can find his World Championships form, where he finished second to American Taylor Phinney, he will be hard to beat.
Dale Parker, Michael Hepburn and Nathan Haas could upset the duo. If history is anything to go by, Haas could finish third; the Genesys Wealth Advisers rider finished fifth in 2009 and fourth last year.
Amber Halliday is the clear favourite for the women’s 27.1km event. The former rower won last year and after missing the Australian team for the world championships in 2010 she will be out to send a message. Bridie O’Donnell, Carly Light, Vicki Whitelaw and Shara Gillow will be her main rivals; Josephine Tomic isn’t riding but Tiffany Cromwell, Alexandra Carle and Sarah Kent are amongst the favourites.
The 38.2km men’s time trial is the final event on the program. Cameron Meyer, who stormed to victory last year will look to defend his title while Garmin-Transitions team-mate Jack Bobridge starts as his main rival, although John Anderson, runner-up to Meyer last year, will be aiming to go one better. Previous winner Adam Hansen will give Meyer a run for his money as will Luke Roberts, Will Clarke and Michael Matthews.
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