With Olympic qualifying points up for grabs for the women, Australia will send some strong representation for this weekends Oceania Road Cycling Championships near Queenstown.
With virtually all of New Zealands leading riders away on professional duties overseas or preparing on the track for the upcoming world championships, a smaller kiwi contingent face a strong challenge from the Australians in the elite ranks.
There are 12 Australians and two riders from Guam in the 21-strong elite mens entries and six from across the Tasman and one from Guam in the 17 riders in the elite womens racing.
The Olympic points qualification for the mens road race is now complete but the women remains open. Accordingly Australia is represented by strong candidates including GreenEdge professional Shara Gillow, Canberras Myfanwy Galloway, who rides for the Faren Honda UCI team this year with Commonwealth champion Nicole Cooke and Rachel Neylan, a European based professional. Both Neylan and Gillow were prominent in the recent UCI New Zealand Cycle Tour.
The new domestic womens team Soul Star Racing will make their racing debut at the championship led by former New Zealand senior womens road race champion Gabrielle Vermunt.
Theres a battle of the trade teams in the elite mens competition with a strong contingent from New Zealands Subway Pro Cycling led by Paul Odlin and Sam Horgan, who were first and second respectively in the time trial at Januarys national championships.
They face a battle against UCI Pro Continental team Team Budget Forklifts, who have already won two races this year and are led by the talented Shaun McCarthy.
There are strong numbers in the under-23 and under-19 fields where South Canterburys Jason Christie, runner-up in the time trial at the national championships, is likely to feature prominently. Christie was sixth in the under-23 time trial at the world championships last year. He will face a tough challenge from current Omnium world champion Michael Freiberg (Jayco-AIS) and Campbell Flakemore (Genesys Wealth Advisors) who won the opening time trial of the NZ Cycle Classic earlier this year.
Sophie Williamson, from nearby Alexandra, will lead the way in the junior womens ranks after her top-10 finish at the world championships.
The championships begin with the time trials on Friday with the under-19 women (76.5km) and elite women (102km) road races on Saturday and the under-19 (102km) and both Under-23 and elite men(153km) races on Sunday.
The course is a 25km circuit that starts and finishes at the Nugget Point Resort at Arthurs Point incorporating some challenging climbs near Arrowtown.