In one of the most dramatic final laps seen at a National Championships, 2017 National Road Series champion Michael Freiberg (Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) triumphed to claim the elite men’s road crown.
A prominent early breakaway group opened the always hectic 185.6-kilometre men’s road race, with Freiberg, Chris Harper (Team BridgeLane) and defending champion Alex Edmondson (Mitchelton-Scott) joining 2013 champion Luke Durbridge (Mitchelton-Scott).
The quartet worked together for the majority of the 16 laps of the infamous Buninyong course before Cameron Meyer (Mitchelton-Scott) made a move with Conor Murtagh (Oliver’s Real Food Racing) and Jason Lea (Team BridgeLane) to join the leading group with five laps remaining.
With the pace of the race obliterating the field and scattering groups across the course, Edmondson and Durbridge lost contact with the front group and Harper pounced to take a ten-second inside the penultimate lap.
Meyer and Freiberg reeled in Harper on the final lap, before an immediate counter-attack from Harper was answered by Meyer. Freiberg’s chance of a podium finish looking all but over when he trailed Harper and Meyer by 17-seconds just four kilometres from the finish line.
But in a determined act of raw power and tactical nous, the Perth cyclist caught the breakaway inside the final kilometre to claim a victory for the ages in the dying moments.
While the excitement of Freiberg’s victory rang through the crowd, there was an undertone of emotion for the remainder of the podium with Harper just missing the top step for a second straight year, while the dual time trial champion Meyer is left searching for the elusive crown.
Freiberg also collected the Langdon Building Sprint Competition jersey on his back, with Harper taking in both the Altus Traffic Most Aggressive Rider and Stages King of the Mountain categories.
“It’s been surreal. Down the home straight coming up on the boys, I didn’t really expect it and then I hit them with a bit of speed and I got a gap and I was like ‘Oh I’m going to have to go really deep here…I know how quick Cam is’ and I got a gap and I held it.
“The jersey’s so big, you get to wear it for twelve months. On the last lap, I was just hoping for a podium. That would have been fantastic for myself, to keep me going in my career, but catching them on that last straight was something really special.”
“It’s the ones you have to fight the hardest for that mean the most and I think it’s been about eight or 10 years since I have been up on the podium at the world level, so this is really special for me.”
“It’s bittersweet. Everyone here, you’re coming here to win the jersey and second place is almost… It’s nothing to you really. Everyone wants the green and gold so it’s nice to be on the podium but at the end of the day, we’re all out here trying to get that jersey. So it is bittersweet.”
“When we got rid of Freiberg on the climb, I sort of thought me and Cam, depending on how Frieberg went, I knew Cam given his track background had quite a good kick on him. Coming into the finish I wasn’t confident. I sort of tried to put him on the front to try to give myself every opportunity. Freibs came back, didn’t give up so all credit to him. That’s an amazing ride.”
“I wasn’t thinking of attacking (in the sprint), I don’t think I would’ve been able to get rid of Cam. He was riding super strong all day so more just trying to conserve and give 100% in the finish.”
“We knew Freiburg wasn’t too far behind. I think he caught us both by surprise a little bit just with that momentum.”
“I’m going to try to not cry too much. I think I’ve been every position bar first. I had every opportunity and I don’t know if I’m more upset at myself or letting my teammates down a little bit. I bluffed a little bit in the final there, I knew the legs had one kick in them and Freiberg went early and I was hoping he wouldn’t. When he was coming I tried to play the bluff on Harper and I had to get to as close to the line as I could with one kick and it was too much for my legs today. It’s all a bit much at the moment.”
“I knew he (Freiberg) was going to ride tempo, I knew he didn’t have the acceleration on that last lap. He was at 20 seconds and I knew he’d keep plugging away. He’s a big boy and you get that roll coming down the home straight and I’ve seen guys come back in that final if you fox too much. The problem is I didn’t have anything to really push to the line so I had to play cat and mouse. It didn’t work.”
“It’s hard to accept for me. Like I’ve been on the podium before so I’ve been wanting that green and gold for a long time. I know it’s a good ride and it’ll take a while that to settle in. It was a big day, you can see by the way the field finished, in dribs and drabs everywhere. It was a tough day out there.”
“Hopefully my twelfth time lucky next year.”