Cameron Meyer (Team Bike Exchange) secured back-to-back victories in a thrilling photo finish to end an epic 185-kilometre men’s road race, the final event at the 2021 Federation University Road National Championships, in Buninyong on Sunday.
In one of the most exciting finishes to a men’s road race in the Championship’s history, Meyer, 33, reeled in his Australian Cycling team and Tokyo Olympic track teammate Kelland O’Brien (InForm TMX Make) on the finish line to take the gold. Scott Bowden (Tasmania) rounded out the podium.
“I drew every bit of thirteen years’ experience to pull that one off,” said Meyer. “Every lap I thought I was in trouble feeling like this wasn’t going to happen.
“That finish is one of the hardest to get right, everyone was legless, I was legless.
“I had to bring everything out there today because I had some shocking laps in there and I was hurting! But you never know what you can pull off.”
There was plenty of action in the early laps of the 16-lap race, with O’Brien featuring in the early breakaway of ten riders. Sam Welsford bridged the gap to the group at the halfway mark with Brendan Johnston and the pair blazing away to form a decent lead.
Kell O’Brien and Team Bike Exchange’s Alex Edmondson formed a chasing duo, however, it was individual time trial gold medalist Luke Plapp (InForm TMX Make) and Chris Harper (Team Jumbo Visma) who caught the leaders.
It was there when 20-year-old Plapp, Tokyo Olympic Track teammates with Meyer, Welsford, and O’Brien, took the road race lead with six laps remaining.
Harper then set his sights on Plapp, with O’Brien sticking close by to protect his teammate. The leading group turned into four as Harper, O’Brien and Seb Berwick (Israel Start Up Nation) joined Plapp as they hit the climb for the third last time.
By the bell lap, it was Harper leading O’Brien with a 37–second gap on the chase group featuring Plapp, Meyer, Durbridge, Nick White (Team BridgeLane), Seb Berwick, and Bowden. The group became one on the final lap, and produced an enthralling game of cat and mouse over the final few kilometres, before a thrilling finish in front of the crowds lining the streets of Buninyong.
“Oh my god, I get to keep the (green and gold) jersey for another year, I can’t believe it!” said Meyer. “I pulled that off because of Luke Durbridge!”
“He is unbelievable, somehow, we just pulled off a miracle. I thought we were gone and buried; I have no idea how to explain that.
“That was a nail-biting race, somehow it panned out for us. We thought we were done, the team committed to me and I didn’t feel that good with four to go but somehow, we dug deep and pulled off the miracle.”
Meyer is hoping to have more opportunities to wear the green and gold after COVID heavily impacted the racing calendar in 2020.
“Last year was such a highlight after I finally ticked this off the list,” Meyer said. “This was my thirteenth time in the seniors in the elites. I didn’t get to race in the green and gold as much as I would’ve liked last year so fingers crossed the pandemic goes away so I can get a few more races in.”
Meyer also paid tribute to his Australian Cycling Team track squadmates after the race.
“I need to retire soon before they get any better because they were unbelievable here,” he said. “I am hearing Welsford is off the front, then Plapp, then Kell.
“I’ve been training within the last month and I knew they had great form. You saw that at Santos Festival a couple of weeks ago. Today they fell short, but they’re going to be around for many years and I’m sure you’re going to see them on the podium say a few times.”
2019 team pursuit world champion O’Brien was pleased with his performance on one of road cycling’s biggest stages.
“I think the Australian Track riders get pigeonholed a little bit, but I think this week we really showed everyone that the track riders can perform on the road as well,” said O’Brien.
“I’m happy with the overall results of the weekend. I wanted to win, and I came here with the mindset of winning. So, it’s a bit bittersweet running second, but I’ll now use that to motivate me for the future.”
2016 Olympic mountain biker Scott Bowden, contesting his first race in twelve months after a year of injury and illness, was over the moon with bronze while riding as an individual without the support of teammates.
“It was super brutal out there, but I was pretty keen for a hard race given I was racing as an individual,” Bowden explained.
“I haven’t contested a bike race in over 12 months, so I just wanted to come over and give it a crack and in the end I’m glad I did.”
Team Bike Exchange’s Sarah Roy, 34, stole the show on Sunday with a phenomenal victory in the women’s elite road race at the 2021 Federation University Road National Championships in Buninyong.
Roy’s teammate Grace Brown secured a one-two for Australia’s Women’s WorldTour outfit Team Bike Exchange, with Trek Segafredo’s Lauretta Hanson completing the podium with bronze.
“I am feeling a sense of disbelief because I didn’t expect this today,” said Roy, who claimed the national criterium crown in Ballarat in 2014. “But I think that’s what makes it more exciting and makes you more emotional, I can’t believe it.”
Beginning in near-freezing conditions, a field of 94 women set out on the 104.4km race, with the action warming up from the first of nine laps when Hanson attacked as the peloton hit the Mt Buninyong climb.
Joining her was Roy, 2015 champion Peta Mullens (Roxsolt Liv SRAM), Matilda Raynolds (Specialized Women’s Racing), Kathryn McInerney, and Georgia Baker (Australian Cycling Team).
The group opened a gap of nearly five minutes on the peloton before Roy attacked over the top of the climb at the midway point of the race.
As the lead group splintered, Roy and Hanson moved to a lead of two minutes to the main chasing group, before Roy then shook clear of Hanson with three laps remaining and rode solo to a maiden road crown.
“I still can’t believe it, I honestly didn’t expect this coming here today especially with the summer I’ve had, it just wasn’t a consideration for me at all to take the jersey,” said Roy, who will now wear the green and gold champion’s jersey in 2021.
Despite the Team Bike Exchange car letting their rider know the title was hers inside the final kilometre, Roy never let up.
“You can never have confidence on this course, anything can happen. You can just get pipped on the line so it’s not one to ride around feeling like you’ve got it.
“So, I never felt that way even when with one kilometre to go when my car came up and said ‘you’ve got it’. But with 200 metres to go, I’m still checking my shoulder just in case. I never thought I had it in the bag until I crossed that line,” Roy added.
After winning the Australian criterium championships in 2014, Roy was signed by Orica-Greededge, now Team Bike Exchange. Despite collecting several wins on the women’s tour over the past few seasons, Roy had spent previous women’s road national championships in support roles to former winners such as Amanda Spratt.
“People have just presumed this course doesn’t suit me, but I’ve always thought it can suit me,” Roy said. “But I’ve always had this quiet little self-belief with this course that one day I want to crack it.
“I didn’t think it was going to be today, but I took advantage of my team role and that was to be in the break. I pushed the breakaway out a bit further and it paid off.”
Team Bike Exchange made it a gold and silver double after a brilliant supporting ride from Grace Brown who stayed in the peloton with Lucy Kennedy and marked the dangerous riders such as 2019 champion Sarah Gigante (Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank) and ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast young gun Ruby Roseman-Gannon.
After a successful team effort to protect Roy’s lead, Brown dashed the podium as she outsprinted Lauretta Hanson, Emily Watts (KOM Financial Knights of Suburbia) and SASI’s Amber Pate in the battle for the podium.
“It’s always awesome to be up on the podium with your teammate,” said Brown, the 2018 and 2020 bronze medalist. “I’ve come third here twice, so it’s nice to increase that too. Hopefully, one year I can actually be on the top step, but I’m pretty stoked for my teammates to have won this today.”
Third-placed Lauretta Hanson (Trek-Segafredo) was surprised but ecstatic with her podium appearance.
“This a really tough course. Buninyong is a challenging climb and I’m not necessarily known for my climbing,” Hanson said. “My tactic was to get ahead of the race, and my teammate Chloe Hosking and I both wanted to be aggressive and see what opportunities unfolded.
“I’m really excited to get a medal today. It’s not something I expected from a race like this.”
A superb effort from rising star Emily Watts saw her cross the line in fifth place to claim the under 23 national title.
“I feel pretty stoked because I’ve never felt like this before,” Watts explained. “As I crossed the line, I had no idea I had won the under 23s category, so when I notified of it, I was pretty shocked.”