Neil Van Der Ploeg gets over the line in wet conditions to win the 2014 Classic. Track records of Classic contenders —
Team: High5 Dream Team
Lauren Perry was just 16 when she won the elite women’s criterium at the 2012 Launceston Cycling Festival. After adding Australian, Oceania and World Champion track titles to her name in the ensuing years, Perry is back and eager for more success at her home-town event. The local has recently returned from the Colombian leg of the Track World Cup series, and has squeezed in a brief trip to Launceston before the National Omnium Championships begin in Adelaide later this month. While Perry has only spent limited time on the road in the past months given her heavy track schedule, a strong performance from High5 Dream Team could position Perry to take another Classic win.
Australian cycling’s newest golden girl, Macey Stewart held three junior world championship titles last year across the track and road. The Devonport-born rider won the team pursuit national championships in early 2015, and went on to spend the season with Orica-AIS. While she was unable to secure a podium finish during her first extended stint in Europe, Stewart has a bright future ahead. A Mersey Valley Cycling Club member and Tasmanian Institute of Sport graduate, Stewart is the latest in a long line of local riders to excel overseas.
Annemiek van Vleuten
A three-time stage winner at the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile, Annemiek van Vleuten has recently joined Orica-AIS for the 2016 season. With an impressive palmares including wins at the Dutch national time trial championships, Tour of Flanders and GP de Plouay, van Vleuten is an experienced European professional. Although a training accident in August saw the 33-year-old hospitalised with multiple fractures, van Vleuten is back on the bike and ready to help her new team to success in Launceston.
Coonamble, New South Wales
Team: High5 Dream Team
A qualified doctor, reigning national criterium champion and Amy Gillett scholarship holder, Canberra-based Kimberley Wells has had a busy year. After sprinting to victory at the 2014 Launceston Cycling Classic, Wells continued her form into January to add a second national criterium champion jersey to her collection. Several domestic National Road Series stage wins in 2015 provided the medical practitioner with a strong platform for a brief Europe season, where she came third on stage two of La Route de France. Back in Australia, Wells is now eager to defend her Launceston crown.
A world-class mountain-biker and former Orica-AIS rider, Rowena Fry will line-up at the Launceston Cycling Classic as a dark-horse after spending recent years focused on the dirt rather than the road. Fry and her partner Ben Mather won the female and male editions of the Pure Tasmania Wildside events in 2014, and both have enjoyed mountain biking success in recent years. A former national champion in the cross-country mountain bike discipline, Fry is also a qualified physiotherapist.
Team: Team Sky (2016: Drapac Pro Cycling)
After riding with team-mates Chris Froome and Richie Porte at the 2014 Stan Siejka Launceston Cycling Classic, it will be just Nathan Earle flying the Team Sky flag in this year’s edition of the race. But while his famous colleagues may be unable to return in 2015, Earle will be looking for a strong showing in Launceston as he prepares to join Drapac Pro Cycling. Following two years’ experience as a domestique on the World Tour, Earle will be back in the spotlight at Drapac and expected to lead the team with strong results. One of the friendliest riders in the peloton, be sure to cheer on this fellow Tasmanian as he speeds around the new circuit.
Team: MTN-Qhubeka (2016: ONE Pro Cycling)
One of the greatest cyclists to hail from Launceston, Matthew Goss has two Giro d’Italia stage wins and a Milan-San Remo victory to his name. Yet the former track rider endured a quiet time with Orica-GreenEDGE after joining the Australian outfit in 2012, and struggled for results with MTN-
Qhubeka this year. Gossy will be hoping his forthcoming switch to British team ONE Pro Cycling, where he links with fellow Australian Steele Von Hoff, will help him return to the form that once saw him finish second at the World Road Race Championships. A strong performance at the Stan Siejka would be a great start.
Campbell Town, Tasmania
Team: Drapac Pro Cycling
A former Tasmanian 800 metre running champion, this versatile athlete switched to cycling after an injury in 2009 and has not looked back since. Will Clarke won the prologue at the Herald Sun Tour in 2015, before spending the year travelling the world with Drapac Pro Cycling. Appearances at the Tour of California, Tour de Korea, RideLondon & Surrey Classic, USA Pro Challenge, Tour of Alberta and Abu Dhabi Tour followed, although Clarke failed to find stage or general classification success. Clarke won the Launceston Cycling Classic in 2009 from fellow Tasmanians Wes Sulzberger and Tom Robinson, and would love to find himself on another all-Tasmanian podium this year.
Neil van der Ploeg
Team: Avanti Racing Team
A permanent fixture at the Stan Siejka Launceston Cycling Classic, Neil van der Ploeg won the 2012 race, finished second in 2013 and secured victory again in 2014. The former mountain-biker will be hoping to find his way onto the podium once more, after a strong season with Avanti Racing saw van der Ploeg collect a stage win at the Tour of China and the green jersey at the Tour de Kumano. Nicknamed Kramer and with an impressive head of hair, van der Ploeg will be unmissable climbing up the City Park hill.
Koen de Kort
Dutchman Koen de Kort enjoyed a strong 2015 season in the World Tour peloton, helping team-mate John Degenkolb to a prestigious Paris-Roubaix win. In the country over summer to spend time with his Australian wife, de Kort has joined CharterMason Giant on a guest basis and will add a European flavour to the Launceston Cycling Festival. Earlier in his career, de Kort won the Grand Prix Eddy Merckx and Ronde van Vlaams-Brabant, before becoming a well-respected workhorse for Astana and Skil-Shimano. de Kort raced in the Tour Down Under, Tour of California, Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana this year, and will be hoping to use his time in Tasmania to prepare for another World Tour season.
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