This year's Australian Track National Championships promises to throw up a few surprise performances, with the a chance to see emerging talent shine in the absence of several international stars.
As the next generation of Australian track riders continues to develop ahead of the London Olympics in 2012, these national championships could be the chance to some of those athletes aspiring to a place on the plane to London to consolidate their presence in the national cycling consciousness with standout performances.
With Anna Meares and Shane Perkins missing through fatigue and injury respectively, opportunities exist for those riders with aspirations in the sprint stakes to seize the initiative on a national stage.
In the men's sprint events, Victoria is the still state to beat, with Jason Niblett and Joel Leonard leading the way, whilst HTC-Columbia neo-pro Leigh Howard and experienced hand Sean Finning take up the charge in the endurance events.
The New South Wales crew is sprint heavy, with Paul Fellows and Peter Lewis taking it to the Victorians; ACT lads Daniel Ellis and Alex Bird may play a pivotal role in deciding the outcome of the men's races however, with the team sprint high on their agenda.
The women's sprint events may be dominated by Kaarle McCulloch, who is the standout performer of the crop; she'll be hard to beat but be on the lookout for young women keen to impress in the absence of Meares and fellow Queenslander Emily Rosemond.
Enduring moments in the endurance events
In the men's individual pursuit, the man who convincingly broke the U19 world record for that event last February, Michael Hepburn, returns to contest the senior distance of four kilometres. He's a force of nature - not to mention the Australian U23 men's road race national champion - and his battle with local lad Jack Bobridge should make for great entertainment and fast times.
The highlight of the meet, however, should be the expected battle between the South Australian and Western Australian men's team pursuit squads. Both outfits boast junior world champions, with members of the quartet that broke the four-minute barrier at last November's Track World Cup in Melbourne competing against each other.
Western Australians Cameron and Travis Meyer, Luke Durbridge and Michael Freiberg could line up against South Australians foursome that includes fancied youngsters Rohan Dennis and Matthew Benson plus Garmin-Transitions professional Jack Bobridge.
Whilst all are under the age of 25, they're old hands at the pursuiting game and will be keen to impress in a bid for places on Australia's roster for March's world championships in Copenhagen. The competition for these places is fierce and nationals may be the place for any of these riders to seal the deal.
Like their male counterparts, Western Australia's women possibly boast the strongest lineup for their endurance events, with Jjosie Tomic and Sarah Kent the tested performers with junior world championships to their name and an increasing reputation for delivering good results at the highest level.
The omnium is again on the menu for this year's nationals, with New South Welshman Richard Lang expected to go head-to-head with young South Australian flyer James Glasspool, who has been demonstrating some serious speed lately and should carry good form into the titles on home turf.
Lang, meanwhile, enjoyed a good road season in 2009 and has been rewarded for his endeavours with a ride for the Jayco Skins in 2010. He's naturally gifted and will relish the challenge of gunning for a national title.
Meanwhile, another rider from New South Wales, Alex Carver, will be one to watch in the scratch and points events, given his recent experience riding the amateur version of six-day events in Belgium, a tough testing ground trodden by the likes of the aforementioned Howard and fellow Victorian Glenn O'Shea. He performed well overseas and is gathering momentum in his bid to crack the ranks of the senior endurance squad.
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