THE strength of Tasmanian cycling was ably demonstrated by Will Clarke and Ben Grenda claiming a home-state one-two in a top-quality Latrobe Criterium featuring a glut of top pros headlined by third-placed multiple world champion Jack Bobridge.
The opening race in the inaugural crit series, added to this year's revamped Christmas carnivals program, lived up to its billing with Clarke claiming a win as warmly received as it was long-awaited.
In his last race for World Tour outfit Argos-Shimano before dropping down to the pro-continental ranks with Drapac, the Campbell Town rider claimed his first victory since the opening stage of the 2012 Tour of Japan in Sakai.
``That's my first win for quite a while and that was a good quality field so that's a good confidence boost heading into the nationals and Tour Down Under,'' said the 28-year-old.
``It's good to get a win in my last official race for the team and also to beat some of Australia's best riders.
''I won the Stan Siejka in Launceston a few years ago and like the odd crit.
``The crowd was great and so was the atmosphere.''
Having been dumped from the elite World Tour twice in his rollercoaster career, Clarke admits he still feels he has a lot to prove, especially at the Tour Down Under, Australia's only top-flight race where he experienced his biggest win in 2012.
However, like Flowery Gully brothers Bernie and Wes Sulzberger, Clarke will be unable to contest the rest of the crit series due to a Drapac training camp.
Wes also worked his way into the lead group of 14, which separated from the main field with five laps left and also featured big guns Bobridge, German Christian Grasmann and Austrian Andreas Muller.
Still together as they rounded the final corner into Gilbert Street, Clarke timed his finish best to claim the $1500 top prize, Grenda banking $1000 in a photo finish from individual pursuit world record holder Bobridge who took home $500.
Grasmann, Muller and Sulzberger followed with Shannon Johnson, Daniel Nelson, Alex Hoffman and sprint winner Callum Scotson rounding out the top 10.
``That was a good race,'' said Grenda, who has also finished second, third and fourth in his home-town Launceston Classic.
``I left my run a little bit late but it's still a nice way to start the carnivals off.''
South Australian Bobridge, 24, who won the Australian road championship at Buninyong in 2011, said it had been a demanding circuit, which also included Bradshaw, Cotton and Stanley streets.
``I had to go so far out and when you've got guys like Will about you just can't do that and expect to win,'' he said.
``But it was very tight and I'm happy with that. It was quite a difficult race and had some good riders in there.''
Two of Clarke's fellow former Launceston Classic winners had a less successful evening. Ulverstone's Luke Ockerby was forced to withdraw from the series, having still not recovered from the shoulder injury he sustained in Ghent, while Launceston's Milan-San Remo winner Matt Goss only just made the start line after batteries in his electronic gear shift system went flat.
Organisers are confident the success of last night's inaugural Christmas crit will continue into the carnival series, which begins today at Latrobe.
Cycling co-ordinator Rick Martin said about 80 per cent of the riders would also contest the track events, echoing Tasmanian Institute of Sport cycling coach Matt Gilmore's prediction that Muller was one to watch after his victory in the scratch race at the Manchester World Cup.