Matt Lloyd and Oenone Wood win Aussie nationals

Unknown adventure racer takes women’s silver

Matthew Lloyd (Silence-Lotto) and Oenone Wood (High Road) won the men’s and women’s Australian open road race championships in Ballarat, Victoria over the weekend.

Matthew Lloyd, 24, who is in his second year with the Silence-Lotto team, was not one of the favourites for the 163.2km race. But with three laps of the 10.1km circuit to go he took advantage of his status to escape.

"I was just watching everyone and I noticed, because they were watching each other and not me, because I was alone today, that when I actually made the move and I went there would be some hesitation [about chasing]," said Lloyd. "With that in mind I was fortunate enough to get away and I knew that I could maintain the same speed, because I have done this course that many times.

"I was prepared to just lay it on the line and I was really lucky enough to get away at that time and eventually hold on, so that was fantastic."

A relative late-comer to cycling, Lloyd rode for the South Australia – Australian Institute of Sport team in 2006, signing for Silence-Lotto (then called Predictor-Lotto) in 2007. He previously listed his greatest sporting achievement as winning the Australian Ice Hockey Championships in 1996, an opinion he seems likely to change after yesterday’s win.

Wood takes break with amazing newbie Laws

Oenone Wood’s victory was one for the favourites, as the former World Cup champion kept a close eye on competition from the Queensland team of 2004 Olympic gold medalist Sara Carrigan. In the finale of the 102km women’s race, Wood and Carrigan were among the decisive eight-rider breakaway.

"I knew I had good legs today," Wood said. "I felt really good and I had some really good help from Vicki Whitelaw in that break so I knew I just had to be patient.

"Queensland was very aggressive: Lorian Graham was actually the one that initiated the move that brought the [previous] break back, and then she continued to attack. So I knew that Queensland was going to be attacking us, and Vicki and I just had to play our cards as we were a little bit outnumbered."

But it was total unknown Sharon Laws who made the final vital move, attacking at the beginning of the last lap. “I knew I couldn't sprint, so I was really keen to get in a smaller break because in that group I would have come tenth.”

Only Wood could stay with her and made it clear how impressed she was with Laws’ performance. "I knew I had to go with every attack that went on that last climb, so I got straight on her wheel and she put in a really hard turn, and by the time I turned around to see where the group was we had a big gap. I met her for the first time on that last climb. She's definitely a rider to watch out for, it's her eighth race and she's coming second at the national titles!"

Kenyan-born Laws, an environmental advisor for mining company Rio Tinto, is in Australia on a temporary visa and has lived in Uganda, South Africa, Zimbabwe and the UK. She got into cycling through adventure racing in South Africa and only recently started road racing.

After a win at the Tour of Bright, she realized "I really like hills." She connected with local coach Donna-Rae Sazlinksi, "and we've been out here practicing on the course a lot. I haven't ridden in such big bunches, or with the calibre of people here. It's just been an amazing experience."

Laws’ ride in Australia has led to speculation that she might go for a national team placing. With the 2008 Olympics just seven months away, and including the kind of hilly road race course that she likes, Laws has the potential to be a useful team member. She has already discussed the possibilities with senior Cycling Australia officials, but she would first have to decide to concentrate on cycling full-time, then decide which country to ride for and, if she chose Australia over her UK nationality, fulfil residence requirements.

She’s tempted, despite the complications. "I might go away and re-adjust my work situation,” said Laws. "I'd love to go away and race in Europe - I love doing tours, so it would be awesome to get on a team."

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