Copyright John Veage

The women’s peloton at this weekend’s Tour of South West – the second event for women in the 2017 Subaru National Road Series (#NRS17) – will boast a world number inside the ranks.

Sydney’s Ashlee Ankudinoff, 27, a dual world champion in the team pursuit, joined illustrious company last week after finishing the 2016/17 track season on top of the UCI individual pursuit rankings. The last Australian to do so was Anna Meares.

“I didn’t even know there was an overall winner across all the championships, so to find out I did finish number one, it was a pleasant surprise,” said the humble Ankudinoff who capped her 2016/17 track season with silver in the individual pursuit at March’s World Championships in Hong Kong after also claiming the Oceania crown and National and World Cup medals.

“To be ranked world number one, it is no rainbow jersey, but it is a pretty cool achievement.  After being so focussed on the team pursuit for the Olympic Games, it was nice to be able to focus more on the individual event.”

After a hectic eighteen month campaign which lead her to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, followed by a summer track campaign which took her to the top of the UCI Rankings, this weekend Ankudinoff will return to the road this week to contest her first Subaru NRS event in almost two years.

Ankudinoff will swap green and gold Australian bands for New South Wales blue when she takes the reigns as team leader of a youthful NSWIS Sydney Uni Women’s Cycling Team with Jade Colligan, Alicia MacDonald, Nicola MacDonald and Angela Smith.

“I love coming back to Australia and racing amongst my NSW team mates, I don’t get to do it often, so any chance I get I will take it,” said Ankudinoff who is relishing her mentoring role in the team.

“This weekend, I am heading down there with no expectations, the pressure is off.  I look forward to playing a leadership role for the younger riders.

“But we won’t just be sitting in the bunch, we won’t just be making up numbers, we will be aggressive and active.

“We will be making sure the bunch knows we are there and that we earn their respect.”

The Tour of South West is the second of nine events for women in a 2017 Subaru NRS season, a far cry from the less than a handful of events on offer when Ankudinoff began her racing career a decade ago.

“Early on in the NRS, we only had a couple of women’s events which were really pushed to the side, with not a lot of emphasis on promoting the races, riders and teams,” said Ankudinoff.

“But since then, Cycling Australia and the events have done a great job of putting more races on for the women.

“For us to now have women only tours like South West, not always combined, it is a great progression for cycling in Australia and for women’s cycling.

“We just need to get more teams supporting these Subaru NRS races as we’d like to continue to see it grow, but we know this comes with funding and budget that we don’t always have access to.”

This funding and support throughout her career is something not lost on Ankudinoff as she paid tribute to her team sponsors.

“The support of New South Wales Institute of Sport, and now with the backing of Sydney University, is amazing,” she said.

“We have such good support from the team and our wonderful sponsors which allow us to race well. Without them, we wouldn’t have a team.”

The support of the NSWIS team will continue for Ankudinoff after the Tour of South West as she will escape the Australian winter for a 10-week US road season campaign before returning for the next women’s Subaru NRS event in August.

More on #ToSW

The two-day Tour of South West will take in the picturesque Great Ocean Road region around Port Campbell and Peterborough. It will feature three stages, a 7km time trial and 51km road race on Saturday and a 40 minute criterium on Sunday morning.

It is the NRS debut for the Tour which has featured on the Victorian Racing Series calendar for the past four years.

The 50-plus rider peloton for the Tour of South West is highlighted by yellow jersey holder Louisa Lobigs who claimed the honours in the season’s opening event in Gippsland in February.

Lobigs’ Holden Cycling Team also leads the team rankings, with 2016 NRS champion Lisen Hockings plus Shannon Malseed, Erin Kinnealy and Grace Brown looking to hold onto the team’s lead.

Kate Perry – who won the 2016 VRS version of the Tour – and former national criterium champion Sophie Mackaywill feature for Specialized Women’s Racing, while High5 Dream Team will feature former NRS stage winners Tessa Fabry and Sam de Riter.

Rush Women’s Team’s Minda Murray will be aiming to repeat her performance from twelve months ago which saw her claim the road stage in the VRS event, while former dual junior track world champion Macey Stewart continues her return to cycling in a strong TIS Racing team that will showcase rising star Madeleine Fasnacht.

Action gets underway on Saturday at 7.30am.