21st - 23rd February
Stage 3 : Wednesday 22nd February
Barwon Heads, 10:30am 80km (8 laps, 10km circuit)
It was an action packed day at the beach on Wednesday. Unlike previous years, the weather was overcast and there was a definite chill in the air as the riders warmed up. There was an increasing wind too, which would blow a headwind against the riders on the finishing straight.
The crashes came thick 'n' fast, with a couple of riders caught in an accident on the first lap, which was caused by a live snake in the road. There was an attempt at a breakaway early on too, but it did not amount to anything. Sarah Ulmer had tried to get away early on yesterday and today was the chance for fellow Kiwi, Michelle Hyland (winner of the 2005 Young Rider competition). There was no chance though, that the teams with riders in contention would let anyone stay away for long. The time bonuses available as a result of the sprint competition, which took place each lap, put paid to that.
Oenone Wood made sure that she was in contention for the sprint bonuses - she won one, took honours in another two and was second on the stage. This was enough to put her ahead of race leader, Team Univega's Christiane Schoeder, even though they finished in the same bunch and were awarded the same riding time.
On the third lap, Team Univega's Emma Rickards was off the front as the bunch passed through the line. She had about 100m gap on the chasers. When Rickards was (inevitably) caught, Gina Grain (Giant Pro Cycling) and Priska Doppmann went away - a classic move by the Swiss team. The pair were 42 seconds ahead of the bunch as they entered the final lap. They were caught at the back of the circuit on the final lap.
There was a crash about 1.5km from the finish - Tina Pic was taken down - she was almost literally put back on her bike and pushed into contention for the final sprint by her Team USA team-mates. After the finish, Pic could not sing their praises highly enough for the effort they put in for her. "It was a real team effort today" she told WCN after the prize presentation. "We've been away a few times together now - we're starting to get to know how to ride together - we're getting closer in terms of thinking tactics and understand where each other will be." About the crash, she added "My team, they did everything; one pulled me back to the pack and another one pulled me through and then the other one's did the lead-out. It was just awesome."
As Tina Pic was making her way up though the bunch to contest the sprint, the German teams - Équipe Nürnberger and T-Mobile were lining up to prepare the sprints for their leaders. With 200m to go, there was a definite echelon visible on the right hand side of the road, extending back to the left. With riders fighting to gain wheels and maintain position, the final 200m were physical; a touch of handlebars caused a couple of riders to fall on the left hand side and in a domino-type effect, they brought down 12 others. Rochelle Gilmore, stage winner in Portarlington, went down and so too did Russian, Svetlana Bebnenkova. Several of the Team FRW riders were also victims of the crash. Priska Doppmann arrived at the line with blood running down her knee and leg, but seemed relatively unbothered by it. Gilmore was taken to hospital for checks after the stage - her defence of the World Cup victory at Geelong on Sunday and also her place in the Commonwealth Games squad reliant upon no damage having been done today.
The sprinters were ahead of the mess, though, and charged up the final 100m spread across the road. In a scene reminiscent of 2005 on this stage, Tina Pic found her way to the front and continued accelerating. Oenone Wood, wearing the pink, sprint competition jersey, and Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, were up there too. Kate Bates and Univega's Joanne Kiesonowski were visible in the second row of the sprinters, as was Hayley Brown. Nobody, though was able to match the speed of Pic as she took this stage for the second year in a row.
Tifany Cromwell finished safely in the bunch to retain her Young Rider Competition jersey. She was pleased to remain in contention and is enjoying "the biggest bunches I've ever ridden in". As for riding for Team Safi alongside Rochelle Gilmore, she is almost overwhelmed "its awesome, such great experience".
Reactions to the race concentrated mainly on the crash and its effects, although looking forward to tomorrow, Oenone Wood is less concerned about "the hill" : Mount Wallace and more concerned about the run-in to the finish after the climb "its sixty 'k's' in the crosswinds", she remarked with memories of the 2005 event, where she rode to stage and race victory.
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