Over 240 riders will pin on a number at the Sydney International Regatta Centre this Saturday. It’s another impressive turnout for western Sydney after a huge field contested the Remembrance Cup last weekend.
With championship medals and age-group bragging rights at stake, expect some interesting tactics to define a big, fast day of racing.
It’s a flat, fast and at times narrow 5-kilometre circuit around the lake in Penrith. The course is essentially rectangular in shape, with two long straights of over 2 kilometres each.
The surface is smooth hotmix all the way around, so speeds can be quick indeed—last year, the Elite Men averaged 46km/h over 100 kilometres. The only incline, if it even counts as one, is a bridge just under a kilometre from the finish line.
The most technical section happens to come 500 metres before the finish. Two rapid S-bends take riders from a wide road and spits them out on the finishing straight. Positioning through those corners will be vital on the final lap, because the sprint will start immediately afterwards.
Racing will be conducted in age and gender categories, though some age categories will be combined due to lack of entries. For example, the Masters Women 1-4 categories will race together and the Masters Men 8-10 categories will race together.
Within each age category, riders will be either competing for the country championship or the metropolitan championship depending on their home club. This means there will be a minimum of two sub-races within each race (even more for combined aged category races).
This format can make for interesting tactical situations. Sure, every rider would like to win their race outright. But don’t be surprised if a country rider lets a metropolitan rider escape up the road because they are no threat to their title, or vice-versa.
It’s looking to be a partly cloudy day with showers likely. If roads are wet, special care needs to be taken where the road narrows at the south-eastern corner of the Regatta Centre. Last year, a crash there took out nearly half of the Masters Men 3 field .
In terms of wind, it's forecast to be a still day, unlike last year’s afternoon gale. That might keep the bunches together and lead to more field sprints.
Despite the flat course, interestingly, this event is just as likely to produce a solo winner or small breakaway as it is a bunch sprint. Last year, out of 13 races there were only six bunch sprints. Four races were won by a lone rider and the rest by groups of two, three and six.
Again, this may be a quirk of the country and metropolitan divide, but it does indicate that aggressive racing can be rewarded.
Although the field for the Elite and U19 Women’s race is on the smaller side at just 14 riders, it is a race to watch as the second round of the NSW Elite Women Road Premiership.
Georgia Whitehouse (Sydney Uni-Staminade-SUVelo) leads the premiership after winning solo at the Snowy Wilson Memorial Race in April. She’s also the defending champion this Saturday, where last year she won comfortably in a bunch sprint. Whitehouse starts as undisputed race favourite and will be looking to double her premiership lead before heading to Europe next week. She is supported by teammates Anna Booth (SUVelo), Amy Vesty (Dulwich Hill BC) and Georgia Miansarow (SUVelo), all of whom can also contend in their own rights, especially if the team gives them freedom to fly.
Simone Grounds (Dhuez Racing, Dubbo CC) is on paper Whitehouse’s biggest threat. She currently holds every road and track national championship in her Masters 3 age category and will surely give Whitehouse a run for her money for race honours, especially in a sprint. Dhuez also bring Nadia Younan (SUVelo) fresh from a tough training camp in Colorado, and Emma Bunn (Rapha CC), who are both capable challengers for the podium.
There are two unknown quantities on the startlist. Matilda Offord (Marconi CC) is an Australian representative in triathlon. At just 19 years of age, she is no doubt still developing as a rider and athlete. Megan Gammie (Track Cycling WA), meanwhile, finds herself racing on the road on the opposite side of the continent.
Racing with a new club, Lucie Fityus (Hunter Women’s Cycling, Northern Sydney CC) has been steadily improving. Fifth place in the NSW Criterium Championships earlier this year is a good sign of her development and an indicator of her quick sprint.
The U19 race is between Tahlia Dole (Illawarra CC), Tess Wallace (St George CC) and Miren Davies (Port Macquarie CC). Dole has been testing herself on longer races (she won Division 5 of the Gunnedah to Tamworth against the men) and always packs a fast finish. Wallace and Davies have shown great improvement this season, with both medalling at NSW championships. As the three young riders are still very much developing, it won’t be surprising if they simply try to hang on to the Elites and contest a bunch sprint.
The Elite Men’s race sees Sam Hill (Team Nero Bianchi, Hunter District CC) return as defending champion, fresh off his stage win in the Tour de Filipinas. Cameron Roberts (GPM Stultz, Goulburn CC) was the only rider able to follow when Hill attacked late last year—can he go one better? Usual suspects like Luke Cridland (St George CC) and Peter Milostic (Penrith CC)—the latter on home roads—are sure to feature. However, they would all do well to keep up with Ben Dyball (Team Sapura Cycling, St George CC), who is on stellar form, as seen in last week’s dominant Remembrance Cup win.
The Under-23 Men “race of the future” has attracted plenty of emerging talents like Daniel Gandy (St George Continental, St George CC), Gunnedah to Tamworth fourth-place Ben Spenceley (AMR Renault, LACC) and Stephen Cuff (Mainpac Cycling Team, Penrith CC). That’s sure to be an aggressive and exciting race to watch.
There are plenty of strong and enterprising riders across all of the age divisions, including vlogger Christopher Miller (Team Nero Bianchi, SUVelo) (MMAS1), local stalwart Eddie Salas (Penrith CC) (MMAS5) and Cycling NSW’s former CEO Kevin Young (Parramatta CC) (MMAS8).
Racing starts just after 8:00am this Saturday and is expected to conclude at around 4:00pm.
Words and image: Ryan Miu