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World number one Oenone Wood (Nrnberger Versicherung) has won the Geelong Tour for the third straight year, finishing the three-day race five seconds clear of second placed Melissa Holt of New Zealand, with Russian Svetlana Bubnenkova third.
Wood went into today's final stage, a 114km ride out and back from Lara, with a 10-second margin over Holt and her defence of the lead was made slightly easier by the withdrawal of Austrian Christiane Soeder, who had been ranked second at nine seconds but did not line up for the final stage.
"I don't think it was as clear cut as that," said a relieved Wood after being presented with the Tour leader's purple jersey for the final time. "T-mobile were attacking all day today and New Zealand had a strong team, I don't know how many New Zealanders were in this race but they seemed to be everywhere.
"Our team really had to work hard to chase everything today and towards the finish we still had to hang on just to make sure Melissa Holt didn't get too many points on me in the finish," said Wood, who is hoping to carry her exceptional form into this Sunday's World Cup race in Geelong. "The team's working exceptionally well, it's going to be an awesome team this year, a few different riders, so I'm looking forward to it all."
Warm, sunny conditions greeted the riders who raced through flat, open countryside before hitting Mt Wallace, a short but very steep climb midway through the 114km stage. Wood missed an early break but her Nrnberger team mates, including Australian champion Kate Bates, worked hard to get her back up the front. Once there she made sure she stayed there and was first up the climb and stayed with the lead group until the final sprint.
The day was a hectic one for officials and medicos in particular with numerous crashes in the 122-rider field. Several riders suffered grazes and bruising, and Canadian Commonwealth Games hope Lyn Bessette suffered a suspected broken collar bone after she and T-Mobile team-mate Judith Arndt crashed in the latter half of the stage, but no other serious injuries have been reported.
After the climb the race travelled through the bushfire-ravaged landscape near the township of Anakie before the second intermediate sprint of the day outside the Anakie primary school where Holt surged clear to pick up a time bonus to cement her second place overall. Holt also knew that if she could win the stage and the 10-second bonus she might be able to wrest the race victory from Wood, but the Australian was too vigilant to let that happen and made sure she was right on Holt's wheel as they headed to the line.
"Today was really great, we managed to create a break and get Nrnberger to work," said Holt. "We were aggressive at the end and we tried to rally around for a sprint and the girls did well to get me at the front."
As it turned out, 10-time German champion, Ina Teutenberg, nullified the challenge by launching her sprint 150 metres from the line and powering home for the win. "I just didn't have enough strength to get around Ina," said Holt, who was second with Wood third.
"It was hard today but I'm happy that I got it done now," said Teutenberg, who had placed second on stage two and third on stage three of the Tour but admitted today's final stage was the most testing. "It was steep, I mean I only heard stories before, everybody says I need a 27.
"I made it up without walking so that was at least one thing," she said. "There was a couple of girls in front of us who jumped off so it was really close, I think like a tenth of a kilometre more and I would have had to walk."
Kate Nichols, who was injured in last July's road accident in Germany, has regained her form and confidence and secured an impressive ninth place overall at 44 seconds. "I've been really pleased with the Tour, I think it's my best ever," said Nichols. "I was stoked with how I went in the prologue and I was up there in the crit, and in the road stages I picked up a few sprint points just to try and move up a few places overall and finish in that top 10."
The riders will now have two days to recover and prepare for Sunday's opening round of the 2006 UCI Women's Road World Cup Series, in which Wood is the two-time defending champion.
Stage 4, Lara-Lara
1 Ina Teutenberg (Ger) T-Mobile 115km in 2.59.44 (38.39kph)
2 Mellisa Holt (NZ) Bike New Zealand
3 Oenone Wood (Aus) Nrnberger Versicherung
4 Hayley Brown (Aus) Chase Sydney
5 Joanne Kiesanowski (NZ) Univega
6 Miho Oki (Jpn) Nobili Rubinetterie
7 Tina Mayolo-Pic (USA) USA
8 Martina Corazza (Ita) Team FRW
9 Jenny Macpherson (Aus) Australia
10 Annette Beutler (Swi) Elk Haus
Final overall standings
1 Oenone Wood (Aus) Nrnberger Versicherung 6.11.03
2 Mellisa Holt (NZ) Bike New Zealand 0.05
3 Svetlana Bubnenkova (Rus) Russia 0.16
4 Natalie Bates (Aus) NSW Institute of Sport 0.27
5 Ina Teutenberg (Ger) T-Mobile
6 Sarah Ulmer (NZ) Bike New Zealand 0.29
7 Katherine Bates (Aus) Nrnberger Versicherung 0.34
8 Kristen Armstrong (USA) USA 0.38
9 Kate Nichols (Aus) NSW Institute of Sport 0.44
10 Judith Arndt (Ger) T-Mobile 0.47
12 Olivia Gollan (Aus) Nobili Rubinetterie 0.53
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