The Nationals …

Yesterday after a light morning ride I sat in front of the TV and watched the Australian National Championships (thank you SBS).

In the women’s Sarah Roy cruised away and stayed away for the honour of wearing the green and gold for the next twelve months. The drama all played out behind her in the battle for the lesser places. Sarah Brown was an absolute powerhouse taking second with Lauretta Hanson in third place.

Breakaways had been the theme in the week of cycling that had preceded the big events but the men’s race didn’t follow suit. Breakaways got away but were reeled back in. Welsford and Johnston teamed up out front just before half way. Welsford is a track rider with a big sprint and looks it. Johnston is lighter and better built for the climb.

The course is an 11.6km circuit. You’re either going up Mt Buninyong or down Mt Buninyong. There aren’t too many places where you’d care to pitch a tent. The girls did 9 laps, the boys 16.

Johnston led the way up taking care not to drop the sprinter. Welsford did his share of the work on the way down and it looked a pretty effective combination for a while. Eventually though they were chased down. One of the pursuers didn’t stop to say hi. Lucas Plapp just sailed on through with about a third of the race ahead of him. Just 20 years old Plapp has an amazing career waiting to become a reality. He soloed away to a lead of more than a minute. It was easy to believe he would make it another win for a bold breakaway.

Every spectator, apart from the family members of the riders behind, loves the courage of a rider that goes it alone. A group sharing the work enjoys an enormous aerodynamic advantage over a solo rider.

The dream held good until two laps to go. Plapp ran out of gas. He would go on to finish 17th 3:37 behind the winner. Five kilometers out there were nine in with a chance. Tim Roe was one of them but he came off his bike on the second from last corner. Everyone else managed to stay upright but one rider was disadvantaged to the extent that he lost contact with the bunch. So seven hit the kilometer marker with a medal on their mind.

Kelland O’Brien turned up the power and jumped away. He quickly opened up what looked like an unbeatable lead only to cramp short of the line. He was the last breakaway of the day to get reeled back in, pipped at the post by Cameron Meyer. Scott Bowden finished third.

I shared every pedal stroke with the competitors. What made it so incredibly real was the fact that I had ridden the course on Saturday evening in a road race open to all. We were only allowed 5 laps of the course but it was more than enough to feed the addiction. I finished fifth in the 70-74 age group or at least my number did. Somehow they managed to screw up my name in the results.

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