• Under 23 women's criterium winner Kristian Clonan and elite women's winner Rebecca Wiasak in the 2018 green and gold. (Kathryn Watt)Source: Kathryn Watt
The green and gold jersey gives an allure not seen in many other sports. You get to wear a big sign saying that you are better than the rest of your compatriots for an entire year.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
4 Jan 2018 - 10:14 AM  UPDATED 4 Jan 2018 - 11:09 AM

In a commercial world, where cyclists are essentially pedalling billboards for the title sponsors, there is one line that doesn't get crossed. If one of your riders wins a national championship and the team will redesign the kit to incorporate the country's colours. 

It's nice. Old-fashioned. A holdover from a different age when respect ruled in establishing a pecking order within the peloton and a national champions jersey bridged over language barriers in generating an admiration for anyone with a passing knowledge of cycling.

It's hard to think of any other sport that gives such a continued public recognition on the field of competition to its winners. They'll give teams and athletes parades, knighthoods and jewellery for taking out top honours but in the next game they line up the same as anyone else.

The next five days of competition will decide who gets to wear the green and gold stripes for 2018. It will change careers, elevating unknowns to the limelight, secure contracts and shape the future.

Consider a rider like Lucy Kennedy (Mitchelton-Scott). A latecomer to cycling, from a running background and with a riding history of only racing for a few seasons domestically. Last year, she produced one of the rides of the championships to finish third in the road race behind the strong Orica-Scott (as they were then) pair of Katrin Garfoot and Amanda Spratt. 

Kennedy impressed, went over to Europe with the national women's development team, did well again and she's now on Mitchelton-Scott and will race in the biggest events on the calendar this year.

Lucy Kennedy 'definitely' ready for more
Lucy Kennedy (High5 Dreamteam) produced a superb performance to take bronze in the Nationals Womens Road Race behind runaway Orica-Scott pair Katrin Garfoot and Amanda Spratt.

Local riders don't get many shots to impress against big opposition. Less, especially for women these days, after it was revealed that there won't be a national women's development road program heading overseas this year. 

In 2018, the 'Lucy Kennedy' of the championships is Grace Brown (Holden Team Gusto). A runner turned cyclist with a strong season in the National Road Series behind her. If she wants to secure a contract overseas this year it almost has to be with a performance here. This isn't to put the pressure on one particular rider, the stress and stakes are the same for all. 

Sure, there are other pathways. But no matter how many kermesses you win in Belgium or criteriums in the US, it pales in significance juxtaposed with mixing it with the best your country has the offer in a prestigious race.

This holds true across all levels. The under 23 men are scouted directly from here for bigger teams. For instance, Chris Hamilton (Sunweb) made his case for a WorldTour slot based almost entirely on one strong summer of performances and an under 23 national road title.

The under 19s get the rare opportunity to race against their peers in a full race setup, there aren't many opportunities to do that throughout the year. The Para-cyclists will be an interesting addition to the schedule and the Elite men's road race is the blue riband event.

The last two years have seen the elite men deliver some of the most enthralling events within memory. Jack Bobridge, for all his difficulties in his personal life, lit up Buninyong in some of the hardest conditions imaginable. Miles Scotson's (BMC) final surge after a pulsating race, a mistimed Brendan Canty (Education First-Drapac) attack and general carnage had the crowd holding its collective breath until the final exclamation of joy. 

Nothing compares to a national road championship, which is why we honour the champions with one of the greatest currencies within the sport. It's not just a jersey, it's the ultimate way of paying respect.