Posted by Editoress on 03/27/06
Commonwealth Games Melbourne, Australia
Reports made possible by the support of MAXXIS tires
The road races were the premier event of the final day of the Games, with tens of thousands of Melburnians lining the 11.1 kilometre circuit through the Royal Botanical Gardens and along the Yarrra River. The course didn't have a single, race-defining feature, instead sending the riders through constant twists and turns and three short power climbs per lap. The woman did nine laps and the men 15. The greatest obstacle the riders faced was the temperature, at 32 Celcius with scorching sun, it became a race of attrition.
The 36 rider women's race was dominated by four teams, each of whom had six riders in the field - Australia, New Zealand, Canada and England. The favoured Aussies had multiple riders capable of winning, while New Zealand had Ulmer and Melissa Holt, and Canada Gina Grain, Sue Palmer-Komar and Erinne Willock. One rider on her own was defending champion Nicole Cooke, riding for Wales.
The race turned out to be anti-climactic, with a break of five going away late in the first lap which contained each of the main teams - Natalie Bates (Australia), Mandy Poitras (Canada), Emma Jones (England), Toni Bradshaw (New Zealand) and Noor Alias (Malaysia). With all the teams represented (and Australia confident in Bates), the group was allowed to open up a gap of three minutes fairly quickly.
Bates was sitting on, citing orders from the team and, when the group began to flag with two and a half laps to go, she attacked. Jones, Poitras and Bradshw all looked at each other, unwilling to lead the chase.
"Natalie Bates attacked just before the feed zone on the first lap with 4 of us jumping on the move." explained Poitras. "We worked well together for the first lap but then the Aussie and subsequently the Kiwi starting sitting on. Unsure as to their tactics, I just rode to conserve, not wanting to do more work than my breakaway companions as we (the Canadians) were also content to let it come down to a group sprint for Gina. Emma Jones (England) was trying to drive it hard at times but with the Kiwi and Aussie sitting on, no one else was too willing to spend too much energy. Inside 3 laps to go, the break started attacking each other with a strong counter attack from Bates that sent her clear for the remainder of the race. I truly didn't expect that we would stay away for almost the entire race, but with the four major teams up the road, there would have been only a few riders with an interest in chasing. Once our break got caught inside 1 to go, our main goal was to keep Gina near the front for the sprint for silver."
Bates soloed in for gold, and then the Aussies began setting up for further medals. "Australia came with six riders fit and prepared." stated Oenone Wood. "Once Natalie had it (gold) we started thinking about other medals. Nicole was attacking hard and so were the Kiwis, so we had to struggle to hold it together; it was a total team effort."
In the sprint for second Gina Grain went early, and both Cooke and Oenone Wood came off the Canadian's wheel, with Wood outkicking the Welsh rider by less than half a wheel.
"The team protected me up to the final set of climbs" recounted Grain, "I went in with good positioning, I was able to respond to the massive attacks by Nicole Cooke and Oenone Wood. I stuck to their wheels and dug really deep to crest the climbs with them. My legs were good, i just stayed calm and focused on the finish. With Australia, New Zealand and England having a team mate there to lead their sprinter out, I just had to sit calm and fight for my wheels."
"At the end of the day, Oenone and Nicole had the legs to come around me. I went a bit too early at 200 m to go with a false flat finish and, after the hills of the day it was just too long of a sprint."
While the women's race was uneventful, the men had a much larger field of 136 riders, with strong contigents from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada and England. A group of five went away midway through the first lap, initiated by Duncan Urquhart (Scotland). Also in the group were Canada?s Dominique Perras, Robin Sharman (England), Jeremy Maartens (South Africa) and David Kinjah (Kenya).
Australia wasn't represented, but they were keeping a close watch on the time gap, setting tempo at the front of the peloton. The gap was never allowed to grow to more than three minutes, and on lap 11 the Aussies and South Africans decided that they had had enough and started to reel in the breakaways.
A lap later the front group had been caught, and Australia immediately put the hammer down, causing the peloton to explode. At the start of two laps to go there was a front group of 11, with a chase group containing Canada's sprinter Gord Fraser just about to make contact.
The decisive move happened at this same moment, with Rabobank pro Mat Hayman (Australia), Ryan Cox and David George (both South Africa) jumping off the front of the lead group. With Cox driving the pace, the trio quickly went 45 seconds up on the remaining chase group of approximately 20. Hayman then launched another attack on the final lap to solo in for the biggest win of his career. George hung on for silver, while another Australian pro, Allan Davis launched off the front of the closing peloton to give Australia the bronze. Fraser took the field sprint for fifth.
Hayman had had great difficulty getting his European squad to rlease him for the Games, and had to head back to Europe immediately after the race. "I'm having an out-of-body experience" he said afterwards. "I'll go back and be dogsbody again next week and ride for somebody else. As an Australian bike rider this is probably going to be my crowning glory for the next couple of years. For them (Rabobank) it probably doesn't mean much, but for me as an Australian, in Melbourne, the Commonwealth Games ... this means so much."
- Afterwards, Fraser praised the Canadian team for their support. "There comes a point in the race when you realize that you are at your limit. We did a great race and had a great game plan. It was executed 100%, and we did as good as could be hoped. I want to thank the guys; they were looking after me so well. It is disappointing, but this is the best we could have hoped for. The English guy (Stephen Cummings) and I were marked (in the front group), but South Africa and Australia dominated everything. Tactically they did a great race."
- Dominique Perras was in the break all race, and still managed to finish 15th. "It was a long, long day. We wanted to be aggressive, so when Urquhart went I followed him. We ended up with a group of five; I was hoping more would join, but the Aussies were controlling things back there. I rode within myself, saving myself for later in the race. When they (the peloton) caught us, I was hoping that it would pan out with Gord there, but ..."
- A number of athletes from poorer nations have disappeared from the Games, particularly war-torn Sierra Leone. It has been confirmed that two of the athletes that disappeared were cyclists Alhassan Bangura and Mohamed Sesay. The Sierra Leone team had bikes bought for them by a local Australian regional council, and it appears that the bikes were sold by the athletes prior to their disappearance.
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