The countdown has begun. There is less than a week now until cyclists from around Australia get to put up their fists and face off in search of a coveted green and gold jersey.
The criteriums are fun, fast and a bit dangerous. The winner of this race usually relies on phenomenal bike handling skills, a healthy touch of insanity and a greater willingness to lose skin than their competitors.
Riders have been making skin donations to the bitumen of Ballarat for many years now, and this year is sure to be no different.
The Time Trials are horrible and boring affairs that truly epitomise the masochism that pervades this sport.
Most sport psychologists have a field day with elite time trial riders – whether it’s a Freudian desire for your mum, or you were just dropped on your head as a kid, to tackle roughly 50 minutes of chewing on blood, bile and sweat definitely takes a ‘special’ character.
What you’ll find is the most ‘normal’ and ‘balanced’ of all riders is the one who wins the road race. The winner of the road race is the one with the right mix of all levels of madness typical to an elite athlete.
In the past, the U23 men’s road race has been a battle of ‘everyone’ versus the Australian Institute of Sport Team.
Coming from a rider who is jealous, bitter and most definitely twisted, I am happy to see it will be different this year.
Normally the tactics go like this:
1) Breakaway goes (AIS have at least one or two riders there).
2) Everyone piss farts around.
3) With a few laps to go the AIS smash it to pieces.
4) An AIS rider bridges across and wins.
With the introduction of the new World Tour Academy (which is a whole new article in itself) there will be individual AIS riders but they will all be racing separately.
For example, Campbell Flakemore, for Huon-Genesys, or Adam Phelan, for Drapac Pro Cycling, are both World Tour Academy riders but during the road race they will be racing for their respective domestic teams. So long story short, it will be an open race and exciting to watch.
For the women’s Race (Elite and U23 combined) and the men’s race it’s pretty much a battle of everyone versus Orica-GreenEDGE (OGE).
Let’s be straight down the line here; when there is something big in your own sport, you want to be a part of it.
With something like OGE, pretty much everyone would love to ride for their home grown team.
I mean, when Australia gets the chance to finally have its own World Tour team, well that’s just awesome. When that team gets to win the Tour Down Under, that’s even better. When that team then wins Milan San Remo and Grand Tour stages, that’s enough to bring a tear to the eyes of even the most hardened, unpatriotic cynic out there.
But when that team turns up with 16 riders at the national champs, well that’s just bullshit!
Like turning up to a fistfight with an AK47, they’ve got the numbers and the armoury to outgun all-comers.
But then again, that’s half the fun. They have to win. They need to win. It’s their race to lose.
Don’t be fooled by recent results on Arthurs Seat at the Herald Sun Tour finale either. The OGE riders (Matt Goss, Simon Clarke, Simon Gerrans and Stuart O’Grady) in the Sun Tour were all seen riding home after the 150km stage into Healesville.
In search of those ‘secret’ kilometres and super form, I don’t think anyone doubts they will lift it to another level by the time we roll out at Buninyong.
Nonetheless, if we examine the hilltop finish, we do see some of the superstars from local teams that have a legitimate chance of taking nationals glory.
Nathan Earle from Huon-Genesys won the stage and is always a good chance on a hilly circuit.
Dan McConnell represented Australia for mountain biking at the Olympics, came second at Arthurs Seat riding for Suzuki-Bontrager and had an outstanding performance at the nationals last year, coming in 11th.
Mark O’Brien rounded out the podium at Arthurs Seat and was the premier climber of the Subaru National Road Series in 2012 riding for Budget Forklifts.
As we take a gander further down the results list we see a standout performance from current Budget rider Marc Williams and great rides from Drapac’s two former champions; Will Walker and Darren Lapthorne.
There’s no doubt there are any number of riders who can step up to the plate.
This weekend is the weekend that can change the life of a rider. You win this race and you get the Green and Gold jersey for an entire year.
Moreover, you get the green and gold bands on your jersey sleeves forever.
So guns or no guns, we’ll be rocking up to the fist fight. Because forever is a long time.