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The young guns fired at the Australian Open Road Championships today in the Adelaide Hills town of Mt Torrens where 20-year-old Will Walker claimed the honours in the combined U23 and men's elite road race. Walker, who won the silver medal in the U23 road race at the World Championships last year in Madrid, races with the Rabobank continental team in Europe, a team which acts as the development squad for the ProTour team.
Second across the line was another of Australia's future stars, 19-year-old Wesley Sulzberger, who will this year ride with the newly formed South Australia.com-AIS continental team. Third across the line was comparative veteran Russell Van Hout, 29. The bronze medal for the U23 classification went to another member of the South Australia.com-AIS team, Jonathon Clarke, who placed sixth overall.
Walker was awarded the U23 national champion's jersey and the gold medal for both divisions but as per the international federation rules the Australian champion's jersey for the elite division was awarded to Van Hout.
"It feels pretty good being a 20-year-old national champion," said Walker, who sailed across the line solo with his arms raised in triumph after gaining a gap on the rest of a lead group of eight riders in the final kilometres of the 175.5km (nine laps of 19.5km) race. "It's just unbelieveable to have a bit of a gap in the last 200m and not get caught with 10m to go like I probably normally would."
"Willy Walker has the honour of being the first U23 rider to win both but he will also be the last," said Cycling Australia chief executive officer Graham Fredericks. "We probably didn't write the rule with this in mind, but as we read it today, it was quite clear in our rule book that there is an elite and an Under-23 jersey that are awarded and not to the same rider.
"He's going to get a gold medal for the open championship and he's going to get the jersey for the under-23 and next year there will be two entirely separate races."
The minor placings were disputed after a protest was lodged by 1999 champion Henk Vogels, after a rough-house final sprint. The end result saw fourth across the line Gene Bates relegated to eighth place for irregular sprinting.
"Bates came up and said sorry but that's not good enough - the race is over," said an angry and very disappointed Vogels, who had worked hard all day to set himself up for a good result.
Van Hout was very happy to be on the podium in what has become a world class event because of the calibre of entries. "It's big, it's huge," said Van Hout. "All the big guys have won this race."
The race began with a record field of 168 riders but early nerves saw a major pile up on the first lap when a touch of wheels caused a crash in the bunch. Around 30 riders hit the deck and up to 60 were impacted by the crash. One of those was the highly fancied Allan Davis (Liberty Seguros), who then suffered a puncture when trying to regain the lead group.
CSC's Luke Roberts also fell victim to the crash and subsequent mechanical problems left him off the back in no man's land. Both Davis and Roberts opted to cut their losses and withdraw from the race. Several others withdrew as a result of the crash with minor injuries or because of mechanical problems with only one rider going to hospital with a suspected broken wrist.
Fourteen riders staged the decisive break on the third lap with several big names, missing the move including defending champion Robbie McEwen. The break worked hard to gap the rest of the field and did so well the officials pulled the main bunch out of the race with two to go as they were about to be lapped by the breakaway group.
As the leaders headed for home, Adam Hansen, two-time winner of the Northern Territory's Crocodile Trophy endurance event, attacked the lead group and was soon joined by Walker, who proved too strong. Hansen dropped back and Walker held on for the win.
1 William Walker (Rabobank) 175.5km in 4.09.17
2 Wesley Sulzberger (South Australia.com-AIS) 0.27
3 Russell Van Hout
4 Adam Hansen
5 Henk Vogels (Davitamon-Lotto)
6 Jonathon Clarke (South Australia.com-AIS)
7 Peter McDonald (FRF Couriers) 0.39
8 Gene Bates
9 Matthew Wilson (Unibet.com) 1.36
10 David Betts 1.38
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