Winning the Australian Championship
I’ve knocked out my first race of the season, and with it, I took out my first win of the year. Thanks to smart, aggressive racing by my nine teammates in the road race at the National Road Championships, I have secured my second national road title. The excitement I felt when I pinned on my number this morning was replaced with pride as I pulled on the green and gold jersey this afternoon. It’s always special to win an Australian Championship. This one is extra special as I was given the opportunity to finish off some fantastic teamwork.
I traveled to Ballarat on Friday. The Nationals were well underway at that point. I followed along from afar as Michael Hepburn took a surprise win over Luke Durbridge in the individual time trial on Wednesday. Neo-pro Damien Howson (U23 World Time Trial Champion) rounded out the podium. It was a great day for the team. I was thrilled for my teammates and eager for my own turn.
I spent Friday getting settled into the hotel. We all had a pretty quiet day on Saturday. We did a bit of a team recovery ride but that was the extent of the activity. I was happy to get back into race mode and catch up with all my teammates as we undertook our final preparations for Sunday.
We knew we had a few options for the road race. Having trained specifically to target today’s event, I was the team’s ‘Plan A’. If it looked like our race was in any danger at any point on the circuit, the plan was to bring things back together before the last lap. Without a break up the road, my job was to attack on the final ascent of Mount Buninyong. We hoped my attack would force a selection, and we were confident I had the necessary fitness to win from a small group.
In saying that, we also had a decent ‘Plan B’ to work with today. Our second option was to have guys like Durbo and Clarkey and even Cam Meyer jump up the road and into the break. We were confident of their form and their ability to win the race.
Initially, we went with the breakaway option. We were looking at 18 laps of the 10.2km circuit, and by lap four, a lead group of 17 riders had taken shape. Durbo, Clarkey and Mitch Docker represented our interests in the leading group, with Mitch doing a lot of work to solidify the break’s advantage.
When it looked as if the breakaway was under threat and we realised it was unlikely that our guys would be able to shed their breakaway companions, we decided to shut down the move. With three laps to go, we took to the front to bring the race back together. At this point, we were invested in ‘Plan A’, and the team was riding for me.
The entire team worked together to bring back the breakaway. Everyone that was left by that point contributed. Mat Hayman was the first to put in a big turn. Damien followed suit. Michael Matthews and Heppy were there as well. They all played their part.
Obviously, for me, Cameron Meyer was an outstanding asset in the last few laps. He really committed to ensuring I was well-poised to attack up the climb, and later, he kept things together for the sprint. He did a fantastic ride, and I can’t thank him enough for his efforts on my behalf in the final.
From the start of the race until the penultimate lap, our plan was always to be on the front foot. We knew we needed to race aggressively, and we never wanted to be in a position were we had lost control of the race. The most important part of those initial laps was that we had the right guys in the breakaway from the start. That made our lives a lot less complicated in the bunch behind and was part of the reason that I was both physically and mentally fresh when the team turned all attention to me.
Coming into the last lap, a selection of sorts had already been made. I was fortunate enough to have a number of teammates with me in the greatly reduced bunch. I wanted them to keep a nice, fast pace to the bottom section of the climb, so that as we approached the top, no one was away, and I would be able to attack on my own terms.
By the time we reached the last little ramp of the climb, the select group had become even more select. There was a lot of foxing going on. I’m sure a number of guys in the group expected me to make my move. Instead, Cameron slipped off the front before I did, and I attacked in the final few hundred meters of the climb. My goal was to break up what was left of the group and get rid of the other contenders.
We went over the top of the climb one by one. I was the first over. Cadel Evans (BMC) followed me. Cam was the next to crest the climb. Then came Richie Porte (Team Sky). The four of us came together again over the top, and that’s how things stayed until the final.
After the final selection of four riders had been made, I was really confident. I fancied my chances in a sprint against Cadel and Richie, but I had the luxury of having Cam with me. Cam was intent on making sure we got to the finish as a single unit, and thanks to his work, I was able to rely on my sprint to finish off the job.
I beat Cadel to the line to take the win. Richie rounded out the podium, and Cam rolled across in fourth place.
My win two years ago played out quite differently from this. When I won the race on the last lap in 2012, trying to win the race in the last lap was not part of the plan. This year, the way I took out the title, it was part of a plan perfectly executed. I think that makes it feel extra special.
Images with thanks to John Veage and Cycling Australia.