ORICA-AIS return to happy hunting ground for 2015 European debut

Wed 25 Feb 2015

It’s a long way from the warm conditions of Australia and early racing, but the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad-vrouwen has a healthy record of European season debuts for ORICA-AIS.

The team has podiumed in each of the three editions it has raced, including in 2012 where Loes Gunnewijk recorded the outfits first ever European victory in its debut season.

Gunnewijk, who recently announced her retirement at the end of the year, will again captain the troops in a strong team that will also feature Swedish champion Emma Johansson who finished second in 2014 and won the 2010 and 2011 editions before joining ORICA-AIS.

The Belgian race, held this Saturday, is the launch of the Classics season and sport director Gene Bates said the team has reason to be approaching the challenge positively.

“I think we can go in quite confidently,” Bates said.

“Obviously the first European race of the year is always interesting to see who is going well and who isn’t going well but I think the riders coming out of Qatar with strong form will be the similar riders to feature on Saturday here.

“There are a few critical moments during the race that we know we need to be attacking or right on the front foot for and if we can be in the front group there, then there is no reason why we can’t come away with a podium or even the win.”

The experienced duo will be joined by 2013 and 2014 Australian champion Gracie Elvin, 2012 Australian champion Amanda Spratt, 2015 Santos Women’s Tour champion Valentina Scandolara and recent Oceania championship silver medalist Lizzie Williams.

Far from the smooth roads and warm weather so far faced in 2015, cobbles and seriously cold conditions will play a major factor this weekend.

“It really is two completely different ends of the spectrums,” Bates explained.

“We go from Adelaide where we had 30plus degrees to Belgium where it can get up to a maximum of three during the day and that is going to play a massive role in how the race unfolds and how the riders handle the conditions.”

“It is actually a really hard course this year. There are a lot of cobbles and a lot of climbs that they will need to negotiate before the finish here.”

The team is currently mid-way through a training camp in the region to ready themselves.

“The idea of the camp was to come up as a group for the Classics, look at the courses and really try to acclimatise so it isn’t such a big shock to the system when the race starts on Saturday,” Bates said from the camp.

“Everyone is training really well. We have a few greener riders who haven’t really done much of this type of Classics riding before so it’s been valuable for them to see the courses and to ride with the likes of Emma Johansson who really is an experienced rider at this stuff.”

ORICA-AIS at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad-vrouwen (28 February):

Gracie Elvin
Loes Gunnewijk
Emma Johansson
Valentina Scandolara
Amanda Spratt
Lizzie Williams