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Aussies top list of fav’s for Commonwealth road race

Australia's women are poised to take over where their all-conquering men left off when the two road racing events are run through Melbourne's picturesque Botanic Gardens on Sunday. But the men's competition remains open with South Africa, New Zealand, Canada and the British riders all in with a chance of usurping the host nation. Even the Isle of Man could spring a surprise. The Australian men crushed their rivals at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester when European-based professionals Stuart O'Grady, Cadel Evans and Baden Cooke allowed their opponents to take the lead

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By AFP

Australia’s women are poised to take over where their all-conquering men left off when the two road racing events are run through Melbourne’s picturesque Botanic Gardens on Sunday.

But the men’s competition remains open with South Africa, New Zealand, Canada and the British riders all in with a chance of usurping the host nation. Even the Isle of Man could spring a surprise.

The Australian men crushed their rivals at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester when European-based professionals Stuart O’Grady, Cadel Evans and Baden Cooke allowed their opponents to take the lead before launching a withering finish to claim all three podium positions.

But those riders are all absent, giving the rest of the field renewed hope.

The Aussies were dealt a further blow when top professional Simon Gerrans had to pull out with a shoulder injury.

They still boast considerable talent, however, including European-based team leader Allan Davis, competing in his first games, and rising star William Walker. South Africa are optimistic about winning their first cycling medal of the games with a team comprising national champion Ryan Cox, Jeremy Maartens, captain Jock Green, Tour de Langkawi winner David George and Italian-based rider Robbie Hunter.

The British will be motivated by their reversal in fortunes at these games.

After winning just 15 medals in Manchester compared to Australia’s 22, they are now hot on the heels of the host nation.

Collectively British riders have won 19 medals so far while the Australians are on 20 and can still be overhauled.

The six-man English team, which includes three track gold medalists in Paul Manning, Stephen Cummings and Chris Newton as well as mountain bike winner Liam Killeen, represents a clear medal hope.

But Isle of Man rider Mark Cavendish, who landed his country’s first cycling gold medal in 30 years when he won the men’s scratch race, is now focused on becoming his country’s first dual gold medalist while Welshman Geraint Thomas also presents a threat.

New Zealand’s hopes were deflated when Hayden Roulston was ruled out with a virus and they will now be relying on veteran Greg Henderson.

The women’s race is more clear-cut. Such is the quality of the Australian team they left out veteran Kathy Watt, a former Olympic gold medalist and time-trial silver medalist. The 3000m individual pursuit winner Katie Mactier will also sit on the sidelines.

The Aussies will be headed by world number one Oenone Wood along with 2004 Athens Olympic Games gold medallist Sara Carrigan and points race winner Katherin Bates.

But they could face at least two major obstacles.

Defending Commonwealth Games champion Nicole Cooke of Wales, a silver medalist at the 2005 World Championships and New Zealander Sara Ulmer are likely to challenge.

But Cooke had her preparation hampered by her second crash in four months in the games lead-up while Ulmer was forced to withdraw from the women’s time-trial, citing a long-term back injury and remains in doubt.

With Ulmer absent from the time-trial, Australia coasted to a clean sweep, giving the host country’s women’s a huge psychological boost.