Rhodes wins national road racing title

Alexis Rhodes has won the Australian road race championship for the first time, completing her comeback from a horror training crash in Germany.

The extraordinary cycling career of Alexis Rhodes reached a new high on Saturday when she won her first Australian road race championship.

Rhodes, 26, took out a six-rider sprint to win the 102km women’s race on the tough circuit at Buninyong, near Ballarat.

Six years ago, Rhodes suffered life-threatening injuries from the traffic accident in Germany that claimed the life of Australian team-mate Amy Gillett.

Five years ago, she capped her stunning comeback from that accident by riding in the Melbourne Commonwealth Games.

One year ago, she threw her bike off the road and was fined $100 for the tantrum when two punctures ended her chance of winning the national time trial title.

Only two months ago, Rhodes nearly gave the sport away after a poor result at the world road championships and also because she did not have a professional contract.

Two-time Australian champion Carla Ryan then helped her secure a contract with the new Garmin-Cervelo team.

Ryan was almost as happy as her new team-mate when she finished second to Rhodes on Saturday.

Both were flying out to Spain on Saturday night to join the Garmin-Cervelo pre-season camp.

Rhodes was asked about the amazing turnaround in her fortunes since late last year.

“That’s bike racing – that’s what you love about the sport and what you hate about the sport,” said Rhodes, a three-time winner of the Australian criterium championship.

No-one knows the extremes of the sport better than Rhodes.

She and Gillett were in a six-woman Australian squad on a training ride in 2005 when a car ploughed into them.

Gillett died instantly, while Louise Yaxley, Katie Brown, Kate Nichols, Lorian Graham and Rhodes suffered serious injuries.

The tragedy devastated the close-knit women’s cycling community.

Rhodes is the only member of that squad still competing at international level.

She appreciated the massive support from cycling and the wider community in the aftermath of the accident, but has also been uncomfortable being known as a survivor of “that crash”.

Rhodes is renowned among her peers for her hard-as-nails attitude and is anything but a victim.

“It wasn’t so much the sympathy … I don’t like making up the numbers, so to be known as ‘aw, the poor girl who got hit by a car’, it’s not what I wanted to be.

“I wanted to be winning races.”

To that end, she rode a smart race, joining an eight-rider group that formed early.

Rhodes was dropped on the last of 10 laps when German star Judith Arndt pushed the pace, but managed to re-join the leaders near the finish and timed her sprint perfectly.

Arndt was fourth behind Joanne Hogan, who also was second in Thursday night’s criterium championship.

Carlee Taylor, who did a power of work in the lead group, finished seventh and won the under-23 section.

[AAP]