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Neben one of many stars set to shine Down Under

As the only International Cycling Union (UCI) registered women’s road race in Oceania, the Women’s Tour of New Zealand traditionally attracts the cream of the region’s top female cyclists and this year is no different. Not only will the race feature the top women’s cyclists from both Australia and New Zealand, but in 2010 the USA National Team will also contend the Pacific race.

The North American squad will be led by former US national road race and World time trial Champion Amber Neben. While it’s too early in the season for Neben to be in peak condition, her international success – which includes two victories at the Tour de l’Aude – will ensure she remains a marked woman in the peloton.

New Zealand’s national squad features an impressive roster that includes Joanne Kiesanowski, Rushlee Boyd and Catherine Cheatley. But perhaps the strongest card in the home country’s line-up is Linda Villumsen, who will be making her debut in BikeNZ colours. Villumsen, who races for HTC-Columbia, announced in January that her request to race on a New Zealand license, instead of the Danish license she’s previously used, had been finalised.

Kristy Broun leads a strong contingent for the Australian Institute of Sport. Broun had a strong season last year and will have the likes of Tiffany Cromwell, Lauren Kitchen, Shara Gillow, Amanda Spratt and Carly Light to support her in New Zealand.

Broun’s is just one of a number of strong squads making the trip across the Tasman. Rochelle Gilmore will bring her Lotto Ladies Team to contest the sprint finishes, with Vicki Whitelaw and Josephine Tomic both possible general classification contenders thanks to an 11 kilometre individual time trial on stage four. Gilmore’s squad is the only trade team taking part in this year’s race, with the event struggling to attract the major European teams it once did following the loss of the region’s UCI Women’s World Cup round.

The event will also feature the green-gold and white colours of Australian Open Road Champions Ruth Corset and Amber Halliday. Despite taking a shock win at last year’s race Halliday will ride in support of Corset on the Nashua Ladies Pro Cycling Team, but hopes to honour her Australian Time Trial Champion jersey on the fourth stage.

While the race has an impressive field from the local region, the nature of the composite teams taking part in the event could mean the event will be won with an unexpected solo breakaway by a little known rider, as Halliday did last year in her first major race. And although Gilmore’s team will attempt to control the racing to launch their sprinter to stage success, a lack of other sprint-focused squads means the door is wide open for anyone to win the five-day race.

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