What was once a dream has turned into a reality for Alastair MacKellar, storming through an immensely talented Men’s U23 field to win solo in Buninyong.
The 20-year-old Israel Cycling Academy rider tore his way through the fragmented groups in the closing laps of the 139.2-kilometre race and went nuclear on the final time up the Midland Highway climb.
With a growing gap between him and the remnants of the breakaway in Liam Johnston (Trinity Racing), James Panizza (Team BridgeLane) and Alex Bogna (Alpecin-Deceuninck Development Team), MacKellar crested the final KOM solo and never looked back.
The Sunshine Coast product was rarely seen in the race before an initial surge with five laps to go from the peloton.
From there, MacKellar played chief animator, bridging to the front of the race in one lap and immediately launching over the top with a momentum-fuelled attack.
That small move was the forewarning of the decisive attack that would come just a few minutes later on the Midland Highway climb.
A tactical battle played out behind MacKellar for the minor medals, fought out between a group of five containing Johnston, Bogna, Panizza, Men’s U23 Oceania Road Race Champion Brady Gilmore (ARA Skip Capital) and Dylan Hopkins (Ljubljana Gusto Santic).
The game of cat and mouse was only interrupted briefly by a Bogna attack into the Federation University section of the course, with all five eventually sprinting to the line together.
A frustrated Gilmore claimed silver ahead of Bogna in third.
HE SAID IT
“I’ve raced this course for a couple of years now and I got a bit worried when the break got out to three plus minutes there, but I knew it’s always the last one or two laps that split this race apart and I knew the legs were good,” MacKellar said.
“Two to go was my plan from the beginning.
“So, I just kept telling myself that I needed patience and that I had the legs with two to go … surprised I did it.
“When you’re at the breakaway all day, it taxes you, so to be able to save as much energy as I could in the pelo and go as late as I could, you can make a lot of time up on that climb.
“I knew my legs were good, but I knew there was some quality riders left back in that peloton.
“I expected some fellas to come with me and had a few there but wasn’t expecting to go off by myself.
“I knew you had to get across as quick as you can. You make most of the time on the climb, so I didn’t want to get stuck out there around the Uni by myself.
“I wasn’t expecting to go straight away but I had the run off the dipper there and had speed so thought why not – wasn’t the move that stuck but I had a crack.
“I went again on the climb, it was a one-ditch effort, so luckily it was enough.
“I’ve been here for 5 years and been dreaming of this for 5 years, so to be able to do it by yourself and enjoy the last two, three hundred metres felt unreal.
“I’ve been dreaming of that for years and to finally get to do it is so surreal.
“I’ve been dreaming of it so glad I’m finally able to wear it.”
[On having two podiums at U19 level]: “This course is honestly just experience. You see it all the time, people going early, and podiuming it twice as an under-19, I learnt lots about how to ride the course. I put all that knowledge in today.”
[On Israel Premier-Tech]: “Being with this team has been a tremendous help to my career. Just the experience you get, the level you get from racing in Europe, you just can’t get that here. What I’ve gained over the last two years from racing with Israel Premier Tech, it’s probably the only reason I could’ve done this today. I have one more year with them for now, going to enjoy it, heading over to Europe next week, ready to kick off the season.”
‘I still don’t think I believe it’: Felicity Wilson-Haffenden sprints to Junior Women’s Road Race title
17-year-old Tasmanian Felicity Wilson-Haffenden has achieved what she came to Ballarat to conquer, winning the Junior Women’s Road Race National Championship around Buninyong.
The Team BridgeLane rider sprinted away from silver medallist Mackenzie Coupland (Cycling Development Foundation) to reverse yesterday’s Junior Women’s Criterium National Championship result, with teammate Talia Appleton (Team BridgeLane) rounding out the podium in third.
That trifecta of talented junior women, plus first-year under-19 Lauren Bates (ARA Skip Capital), worked seamlessly together until two to go when Bates was dropped from the leading selection.
The trio of Wilson-Haffenden, Appleton and Coupland continued to work together until the final lap where the two-on-one strength of Team BridgeLane proved to be the difference.
SHE SAID IT
“It feels incredible, I still don’t think I believe it. The line couldn’t have come fast enough. I owe everything to my team, Talia set me up perfectly, but yeah, I don’t think it will sink in for a while,” Wilson-Haffenden said.
“The pace was on early up the hill. It wasn’t really a specific attack that caused it [the split], it was like a track elimination race, really, hold on as long as you can.
“We were just working together once the gap went. We were keen on holding it. We dropped Lauren with, I think it was 2 laps to go, which was kind of a nice feeling in the group. So it was all cohesive in the front until about the last lap. Talia and I really had to think about how to win the race.
“The bond in the group from less than a week is incredible. Pat (Shaw) setting this up has been amazing, to give us the opportunity and to be able to come through and prove that we have got what it takes, it means everything to me.
“It’s too hard to describe. I genuinely cannot believe it. If you’d told me this would happen 2 years ago when I first got on the bike, I think I’d tell you: no way. I’ll be smiling, I reckon, for at least a week.”
Joshua Cranage conquers Buninyong and Junior Men’s Road Race National Championship
South Australian Joshua Cranage (Norwood CC) has upset the favourites for the Junior Men’s Road Race National Championship crown, sprinting to victory in a mano-a-mano battle with diminutive mountain biker Cohen Jessen (Alpine CC/Duke Flanders Racing).
Cranage and Jessen attacked from a group of 13 riders with two laps to go and held their nerves under the pressure of chasing hot talents in newly crowned criterium national champion Wil Holmes (ARA Skip Racing) and Oscar Chamberlain (AG2R Citroën U19 Team).
Heading to the finish of the 104.4km race it was Cranage who jumped hard first and blew Jessen off his wheel to sail home to an outstanding win.
16-year-old Holmes led the chasing bunch home to add a bronze medal to his 2023 Road Nationals tally.
HE SAID IT
“I knew I had Cohen in a sprint just because he’s a mountain biker and doesn’t really have the same kick as me,” Cranage said.
“I’m happy with it – all the hard work pays off I guess.
“This has definitely been a goal since last year when I got sixth. I’ve been doing a lot of motor pacing leading into this and it’s paid off.
“There weren’t a lot of people working on the front, so it was quite easy going into two laps to go.
“Just attacked up the final climb with Cohen and we held on until the line.
“It’s going to take a while to sink in but building towards overseas this year to hopefully race in some under-19 UCI races.”