Simon Gerrans is the new Australian National Road Champion after taking a convincing victory in the elite men’s road race ahead of Cadel Evans (BMC) and Richie Porte (Sky). Gerrans sealed the third consecutive title for the ORICA-GreenEDGE team, winning a sprint finish from the final group of four. Cameron Meyer led the group to the line and ultimately finished fourth, after working hard to set Gerrans up for the win.
ORICA-GreenEDGE looked in control and comfortable throughout the 183.6 kilometre Buninyong circuit, putting each of their ten riders to use. It was defending champion Luke Durbridge who launched the first attack of the day, just moments after the start. The main breakaway of 17 riders quickly formed with Simon Clarke and Mitch Docker joining Durbridge up the road.
“Our plan today was to put the right guys in the break,” said Sport Director Matt Wilson. “That put us in the box seat behind. The break was very strong, but things didn’t really pan out the way we had hoped and we didn’t feel like the situation in front was guaranteed for us.“
Simon Clarke animated the action in the break, making repeated attempts to solo away over the Mount Buninyong climb. After four hours of fast and aggressive racing, time ran out for Clarke and the break began to disintegrate.
“Clarkey was one of the best in that front group, but there were faster sprinters in the break, so we weren’t willing to go to the line with those blokes still there,” said Sport Director Matt White. “To have a chance at the win, Durbridge and Clarke knew that they had to go solo with two or three laps to go. It didn’t happen, so we decided to go with the safer option and bring things back for Gerro. Simon Gerrans is very very reliable.”
With four laps left to race, ORICA-GreenEDGE began to reel in the break. An ominously fresh-looking Gerrans was tucked safely in the group, with Evans on his wheel. Of the 139 riders that took the start, the chasing peloton had whittled down to 32 ahead of the final two laps.On the long sloping lead-in to the final ascent of Mount Buninyong, Meyer launched an attack. Gerrans quickly followed, with Evans and Porte in pursuit.
“I wanted the guys to set a fast pace and keep it together into the bottom section of the climb, so that I could attack towards the top,” explained Gerrans. “There was already a select group left by the time we got to the last ramp of the climb. Cam had slipped off the front a little bit, and then I attacked in the final few hundred metres of the climb to try to get rid of the other contenders. We got over one by one: myself,then Cadel, then Cam, then Richie. Over the top, the four of us came together again, and that’s how it stayed until the finish.“
With a two-man advantage over the final group of four heading into the finish, Gerrans and Meyer played on their strength in numbers to keep the group together for the sprint.
“The guys did exactly what they had to do today,” said Gerrans. “I stuck to my guns in the finish- I knew I had good legs and as long as that little group stayed together I was confident I could finish it off. Cam fully committed. He really rode his guts out for me today. I’m sure he would have liked the chance to win himself, but the plan was to work for me and he did that 100 percent. The whole team gave it everything for me and I’m really grateful for that.”
Having repeatedly won from similar scenarios over the past two years, Gerrans enjoyed the full support of his team on Sunday. With his proven ability to deliver wins when the team needs them most, Gerrans is an obvious choice as team leader for the races he states as his objectives.
“Simon is a class act,” said White. “He picks big targets, and he always gets them, especially during the past two years with us. The Nationals were a big goal, and now we move onto targeting Tour Down Under.”
“We were very confident in Gerro,” added Wilson. “Today was very similar to how he won this race in 2012- and we’d bank on him beating basically anyone in a finish like that. The whole team rode a strong and tactically smart race today and really stuck to the plan. It’s of crucial importance to us to take this jersey back to Europe, so we’re very happy.”
Gerrans will head to Europe in the green and gold jersey for the second time in his career. His first win came at the beginning of the 2012 season, and set in motion one of the best years of the Victorian’s career, in which he took a memorable victory at Milan-San Remo.
“It’s such an honour to take the jersey again,” said Gerrans. “It was a class field today and it means a lot to me to take this jersey to Europe for another season. It started a really good year for me in 2012, so I’ll try to keep this momentum going and get some big wins coming in Europe this year too.”
ORICA-GreenEDGE has taken a clean sweep of the elite men’s individual time trial at the Australia National Road Championships. Michael Hepburn recorded a blistering 47.8 kph average pace to take his first national road title ahead of two-time defending champion Luke Durbridge and Under 23 World Time Trial Champion Damian Howson.
Defending road champion Gracie Elvin of ORICA AIS took back-to-back road titles in Ballarat at the Australia National Road Championships on Saturday.
All Photos: John Veage - Cycling Australia