Track stars claim Aust road cycling titles

Shayne Hope

Australian track stars Sam Welsford and Kelland O'Brien have displayed their versatility on the road by defying treacherous conditions in Ballarat to take out Australian criterium titles.

Seventeen riders pulled out of the elite men's race before the start on Friday as persistent rain made life difficult for competitors.

Earlier, a strong wind gust had blown down a barrier during the Under-19 women's race and caused a crash that left Mildura's Chelsea Symons with a suspected broken collarbone.

West Australian rider Welsford came over the top of fellow pre-race favourite Kaden Groves to claim the elite men's green and gold jersey, with Ballarat local Nick White third.

Welsford broke clear on the uphill final sprint after negotiating a tricky last turn near the front of a bunched peloton on a slippery surface.

"It was unreal conditions and hats off to all the boys for sprinting in that," Welsford said.

"It was touch and go on the last corner there.

"I just had to back myself in and, luckily enough, I had a bit of space on the outside in the last 100m."

Welsford and O'Brien, members of Australia's world record-breaking team pursuit at last year's world championships, are likely to be members of the track team at the Tokyo Olympics.

Welsford, a dual Commonwealth Games gold medallist, was a Rio Olympics silver medallist, but had never won an elite national road cycling title.

"I had this one in the back of my mind for a long time and missed the mark last year, so I really wanted to come back and really nail it this year," Welsford said.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself to give myself the best chance to get up and I did that.

"I think it shows that us track riders are really versatile and that we can do road.

"There's a perception that we can only do track, but I think we're pretty good riders on the road, too."

O'Brien claimed the under-23 men's criterium national title from Conor Leahy and Matthew Rice.

He had finished second in the same event last year and was also second in Wednesday's under-23 time trial.

"This means a lot to me," O'Brien said.

"This event's super special and, coming second last year after taking a lap, was a pretty hard thing to take on the chin.

"I was second again the other day in the time trial, so I was really hungry for this.

"The rain was interesting and made the race hard, but I'm so happy to take the win."

The combined elite and under-23 women's criterium - the final event on Friday's schedule - was reduced from 40 laps to 30 before the start as the earlier delay caused fears over fading light late in the day.