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Melbourne 2006 – Road Race Preview

March 25, 2006 – With no clear favourites for Sunday’s road races, the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games final day of competition looks set to provide a thrilling finish to the competitions.

Although many of Australia’s male rock stars of cycling will not be present, they have such strength and depth that their team will still be a force to be reckoned with.

Aussie Simon Gerrans, AG2R pro and recent Tour Down Under winner, has withdrawn after a shoulder injury he sustained in February now needs further surgery. However, Liberty Seguros sprinter, Allan Davies, will lead the team ahead of 21-year-old William Walker and Rabobank’s Matthew Hayman.

Dominique Perras, veteran Gordon Fraser, and Geoff Kabush lead the Canadian charge on the men’s side. Fraser, whose first Commonwealth Games was in Auckland in 1990, will find himself up against his Health Net p/b Maxxis teammate Greg Henderson (New Zealand), who has something to prove after a disappointing Kiwi track cycling campaign.

“I am not feeling perfect after suffering from heat stroke yesterday motorpacing at 32C. I was sick last night and I’m still not feeling well. But I have 48 hours to recover,” said Perras on Thursday night. “The course is technical with a few hills, and I reckon it will be very hard to control things. We have a good team, Gord in particular is very motivated and in the case of a group sprint we are ready to give it all for him. If I can recover by Sunday my goal will be to cover the crucial breaks, and I think it will be a race where groups of three and four riders get away, then regroup at the front. Obviously our single goal is to win the race, and whether it’s me or any Canadian is of no relevance – it is a true team event and that’s how we will approach the race. I have felt quite good on the flat lately so I believe I can do it if the race scenario is right.”

MTB star Geoff Kabush has since recovered from his off day at the Games mountain bike event and looks forward to the road race.

“I knew something was wrong during the week leading up to the race but I tried to stay optimistic thinking that I would come around for race day. Unfortunately I had nothing to fight with and suffered through what was one of the most difficult days of my racing career,” the Victoria, B.C. native said. “To have everything within my grasp a couple weeks ago and see it all come crashing down at the worst possible moment was incredibly painful for me. It is difficult because it is an opportunity lost and I don’t know if I will get another shot at the Commonwealth Games. I am coming around now and hope that I will be able to contribute on the road and build a little confidence heading into the first MTB World Cup next week.”

Of the British nations, English national champion Russell Downing will ride on the back of a stellar 2005 season, and experienced Julian Winn is riding for Wales, as well as being their national coach.

On the women’s side, Australia’s all-star team, which includes Games’ time trial champion and world number one, Oenone Wood, will be challenged by all riders.

On the start line for Canada are 2002 Games silver road race veteran Sarah Palmer-Komar (8th at the 2006 Games women’s ITT), T-Mobile pro Amy Moore, Gina Grain (4th in the women’s points race at last week’s track races), Erinne Willock (10th in the 2006 Games women’s ITT), Mandy Poitras, and Audrey Lemieux, a late replacement for the injured Lyne Bessette.

New Zealand’s Sarah Ulmer, who failed to start her favoured time-trial event on Tuesday due to a persistent back injury, is scheduled to lead a strong Kiwi effort. If on form she could pose a threat after a resounding recent World Cup road race victory in Wellington.

Nicole Cooke is the sole representative from Wales but won under similar circumstances at the 2002 Games in Manchester. She is a prolific winner, and provided she can avoid crashing, a phenomenon which seems to blight her career all too often, she could defend her title and win gold again.

“We want a podium finish, for sure,” said Canada’s Moore. “We’re fairly confident, but it will be a different race than what we are used to because the field is so small and there will be nowhere to hide. The Aussies and Kiwis I think are the strongest teams, but there is always Nicole Cooke. It was a big loss to lose Lyne (Bessette) but Audrey is smart and will get some great experience,” she added.

Grain says the team will try and cover every move from other teams. “We’ll really have to be on our toes and be aggressive,” said Grain. “Because of the small field I think it will come down to a group of 15-20 riders at the end, if that. If it does the team will lead out our designated sprinter, which is me!”

The 11K circuit looks more like an extended criterium with countless sharp bends and three troublesome climbs which pop up back-to-back in the last four kilometres.

While many predictions indicate a bunch sprint, the relentless power climbs and corners could easily split the races up. The women’s 100K race starts at 9am local time on Sunday March 26 (5:00pm EST, March 25) and the men’s 165K is at 1pm (9pm EST, March 25).

Stay tuned to pedalmag.com for complete coverage.

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