Australia collected a silver and two bronze medals and reigning world champions shone on the opening day of the 2011 UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup at Sydney's Eastern Creek Raceway.
Victorian Michael Gallagher was pipped for gold in a frantic final sprint at the end of the 70.3km men's C5, Tasmanian Ryan Hughes finished third in the C4 event and West Australian Nigel Barley claimed bronze in the H3 hand cycling.
"It was great to win a place on the podium," said Gallagher who was beaten on the line by world champion Andrea Tarlao whose compatriot Pierpaolo Addesi was 38 seconds further back in third place. "The big break went a couple of laps in and it had a few of the quality Italian riders in it so I had to go with that.
"A couple of laps out, me and the strongest Italian (Tarlao) went off the front and stayed away until the finish," said Gallagher who had to counter Italian team tactics in the final lap leading into the two man sprint. "He left me on the front for a lot of the last lap and there was another Italian in the second chase group so he had a couple of cards he could play.
"I had to lead out the sprint but he has a better sprint anyway."
Gallagher says Tarlao will also be the rider to beat in Friday's time trial.
"He's the current world champ in that as well so we'll see if I can come up and ride a good one and maybe go one better," he said. "Hopefully I can."
Tasmanian surgical resident Hughes was thrilled with his bronze medal result.
"I was aiming for a top five finish which I thought would have been an excellent result so to get a place on the podium, I'm ecstatic. It's great.
"There was a lot of pace on early and I wasn't strong enough to get into the break. There were two guys up the front, and there was only one space left on the podium. The way the race worked out, everyone was looking at each other (so) with about a kilometre to go, and I managed to get away.
Hughes hopes to make his Paralympic Games debut next year in London so wants to ensure he also performs strongly in Friday's time trial.
"After track nationals, I was a bit disappointed to miss the track worlds team so this was the new focus and to get a podium here is a great result," said Hughes. "It's really exciting at the moment. This is a big step in the right direction."
Cycling Australia Para-cycling Performance Director Peter Day says it was a good start to the event for the home team.
"I'm happy with how we're placed so far and I'm really comfortable with the event itself so far," said Day. "For some of the riders, it is the first international experience of any type so I think a lot of the benefit for us will be in the diagnosis afterwards of the squad by individual.
"I think we're in a pretty good place just at the moment," he said. "For the handcycling side of things, it's a real intiative that we have taken on in the Para-cycling program. That's a journey in motion so we have to see what happens because we're not expecting too much for about two to four years in real terms. But I think we could get a surprise."
A result came even earlier than expected with Nigel Barley delivering a bronze medal in today's 53.7km men's H3 event.
"I'm extremely happy," said Barley who might have challenged for gold had he not crashed. "I came into that corner way too hot, went wide and crashed. That's racing I suppose. I didn't think I could get back on because I was really tired at that stage but I got there.
"I thought I climbed pretty well today and my speeds were up there so now I know I can mix it with the big boys," said Barley. "Now it's just a matter of finetuning the engine a bit more so you can get faster and stronger.
"This is my best achievement yet and now the confidence is up and I know I'm amongst it."
Barley wasn't the only rider to come off the track in his event with reigning world champion Arkadiusz Skrzypinski from Poland careening off the course down a grassy hill. He rejoined the race but finished more than seven minutes behind the winner, world championship silver medallist Joel Jeannot of France who edged out Canadian Mark Ledo in a two up sprint for gold.
In the three hand cycling events contested this morning the reigning 2010 world champions claimed a clean sweep of the gold medals. American Oscar Sanchez won by an impressive 3:38 in the H4 event over 62km with Australia's Stuart Tripp sixth and Richard Nicholson ninth. while gold in the men's H1 went to Ireland's Mark Rohan. In the women's H3 it was Great Britain's Rachel Morris first and daylight second as she bolted home to win by a massive 21 minute margin. This afternoon's men's H2 event was won by world championship bronze medallist Lukas Weber of Switzerland.
The USA claimed a second gold medal through world champion Alison Jones who won the C2 road race over 37.1km.
Of the other Aussies in action today Vancouver winter Paralympian Mitchell Gourlay, who this year placed fifth at the IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships in Italy, was seventh in his first Para-cycling World Cup outing. C4 and C5 riders race at the same time with medals awarded in each division and Gourlay's work to help his team mates that was impressive.
"It is almost like a team's race," said Day. "Being in Sydney gave Australia the opportunity for the first time to have some decent numbers as well and Mitch did a really good job helping Ryan to the front towards the business end of their race, which helped him get third place."
Tomorrow competition continues at Eastern Creek with Canberra's Sue Powell, who claimed bronze in the road race at last year's World Championships, tipped as favourite in the C4 event.