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By Gennie Sheer
The world’s No. 1 ranked rider, Oenone Wood, (Team Nurnberger) has taken over the lead in Australia’s Geelong Tour after Wednesday’s incident-packed third stage at Barwon Heads on Victoria’s Surfcoast.
Wood, the defending Tour champion, went into the 76km stage – five laps of a scenic coastal circuit – trailing overnight leader, Austrian Christiane Soeder (Univega) by three seconds but with sprint bonuses on offer through four intermediate sprints and for the stage finish, Wood used her speed to snatch the leader’s purple jersey from her overseas rival.
Wood won the first intermediate sprint at the end of lap one and was placed on two others before picking up additional time with her second place at the finish to claim a total of 12 bonus seconds and move nine seconds clear of Soeder with New Zealander Melissa Holt now lying third overall 12 seconds off Wood’s lead. Wood also increased her lead in the sprint classification while Australian teenager, Tiffany Cromwell, finished safely in the front group to maintain her hold on the Best Young Rider jersey.
American Tina Mayola-Pic sprinted to the victory in a repeat of her win on the same stage last year but not before her American teammates worked hard to get her back in the bunch after a crash on the final lap.
“This is a really tough sprint for me, it’s long and it’s pretty dicey out there and it’s hard to judge how far you’ve got from the finish,” said Mayola-Pic who credited her team with helping to get her back in the race after she crashed. “I don’t know what happened, I just nosedived and my team was awesome and did everything to help me. One pulled me back to the pack and another one pulled me through and then the other ones did the lead-out. It was just awesome.”
Wood came home second with Ina Teutenberg (T-Mobile) third across the line. But the final kilometers were far from pedestrian with a group of riders coming down five kilometers from the finish and around 14 riders, including yesterday’s Stage 2 winner and Commonwealth Games team member, Rochelle Gilmore (SAFI Pasta Zara Manhattan), involved in a high speed pile up 200 meters from the line.
“Hopefully I’ll be alright,” said Gilmore sporting a swollen knee and sore neck. “The last couple of k’s were just chaotic for everyone.
“Everybody was taking risks that we shouldn’t and I’ll admit that I was taking risks but it takes two to tango,” she explained. “We weren’t giving up wheels, I wanted Ina’s (Teutenberg) wheel and she had T-mobile girls trying to push me off to keep her wheel clear – it was just really rough out there.
“I can’t tell you, (how the crash happened) it happened so fast but I think somebody fell next to me or in front of me and I had no way to get out of the way.”
Gilmore headed to hospital for precautionary scans but doctors believe very nasty bruising to her right knee might be the worst of it. Russian rider Svetlana Bubnenkova, currently fourth overall, was also in pain after suffering grazes to her elbow and buttocks from the crash within sight of the finish line which was apparently caused by a clash of handlebars towards the front of the sprinting peloton.
Wood was counting herself lucky to have avoided both crashes but admitted the finishing sprint crash helped the team achieve its goal of getting recently crowned Australian champion Kate Bates onto the podium.
“It was a little bit confusing in the finish, I was going to try and get Kate Bates up, she got caught up in the mess and yeah in the end I had to sprint myself and just didn’t have enough time to catch Tina Mayola-Pic,” said Wood who will now rely on her team to help her defend her lead on tomorrow’s final 115km stage out and back from the town of Lara. “It has a pretty nasty hill, I remember last year I had my team-mate Trixi Worrack and my teammate at the time Judith Arndt (now with T-Mobile) working for me and it was hard just to hold their wheel for the last sixty k’s in the crosswinds so I think it’ll be a tough day tomorrow.”