• Sarah Gigante of TIBCO-SVB prepares for Nationals (AusCycling/Con Chronis)Source: AusCycling/Con Chronis
The Australian national road race championships are upon us, the first main day of competition is the time trial, with some strong favourites heading into the second most prestigious event of the week's racing.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

1 Feb 2021 - 2:28 PM 

The nationals time trial title is always hotly contested, with the added carrot of the Tokyo Olympics and the chance to show ability in front of selectors for the Games squad.

The course is the same as last year, setting off from and finishing from the Federation University hub, taking in a route that includes some significant uphill sections, as well as parts exposed to the wind.

The men will race a 37.5-kilometre course while the elite women race 28.6 kilometres, as will the Under 23 men and women. The majority of the competitors take to the course on Wednesday, with the para-cycling on the Thursday.

Elite Women

Sarah Gigante (TIBCO-SVB) is the defending champion after her narrow victory last season, with just 11 seconds across the top three riders. She's just coming off a dominant win at the Santos Festival of Cycling, her time-trialling only seems to have gotten better since last year and she's a better cyclist. She's still just 20.

She made a field with some very good riders look mediocre in Adelaide and it's hard to see that form not translating here. Another Australian national championships jersey heading its way to the Gigante pool room. 

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There are challengers for Gigante for sure, and if Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange) were in better form, she would certainly push the young rider close. 

Brown said after falling off the pace at the Festival of Cycling that she hasn't done any efforts over threshold in the leadup, as a result, she was found wanting during the start of racing. Thankfully, the time trial isn't about those explosive efforts, but it shows that Brown isn't in the form that she was in last year at this stage, let alone top form.

Obviously at her best, Brown produces a ride like her fifth at the world championships and is very hard to beat, but the form differential seems to be too much to overcome, even with a week and a half since the last race.

Lucy Kennedy would be a contender as well as an earlier version of this article stated, but I've been informed that she won't be competing in the time trial.

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Nicole Frain (Sydney Uni Staminade) was right up there at the Festival of Cycling, though she paid for trying to follow Gigante's initial attack and then took a wrong turn at the top of the hill which cost her a chance at an overall podium spot. She's been impressive in her last few seasons in the National Road Series (NRS), and her TT showing here will be important, a possible signal to how far she can progress in the sport.

Danielle de Francesco (Specialized Women's Racing) is a professional triathlete, but with a lack of competition in triathlon at the moment, she's found her way more regularly on the road. She's won the Queensland Road Series, was very impressive in the NRS, finishing second in the TT behind Gigante. 

A TT effort should be right up her alley, the less explosive effort more suiting the style of a triathlete used to those sustained outputs of power.

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Alana Forster, the doctor from Canberra who loves attacking racing, won't win, but will be an interesting story to watch as she continues her career in the sport. The 34-year-old was hoping to go overseas this year with British squad AWOL O'Shea, but it's looking less likely and she'll have to pour all her effort into races like nationals.

Under 23 women

There are few more nailed on favourites than Sarah Gigante for the Under 23 women's title, but there are some other intriguing riders who will vie to fill out the podium.

Maeve Plouffe (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) is a team pursuit squad regular with a long history on the road as well, competing in the NRS since her junior days. We haven't seen a great deal of Plouffe racing in the last 12 months, but being part of the track squad is going to have her with a firm base of training to fall back on in comparison to road racers who have had to rely on the resumption of racing.

Emily Watts (KOM Knights Racing) got on the podium last year in the Under 23s, the result was a big triumph at the time as she came back from a horrific crash took the superb finish. She'll be better off for a season that has seen her jump between the road, track and virtual racing.

Stephanie Corset (Veris) had a nasty crash at the Festival of Cycling, but she's a very good prospect and will be interesting to watch as she develops. Daughter of road race national champion Ruth Corset, she'll have her mother's wealth of experience to lean on as she gets better. While it's probably too soon to see her right up with the best, a good showing, say four to five minutes off Gigante's time, would be a positive sign.

SBS will be providing coverage of the Australian National Road Cycling Championships. The time trials don't have any live broadcast, but stay tuned to the site for the results from Ballarat.

The elite men's and women's road races will be shown live on television on Sunday, February 7. The national criterium championships elite women's and men's races will be streamed live on the SBS Cycling Central website.

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