Winning one road race national championship is hard, winning three is incredible. Winning three in a row is a fairytale.
But that’s a tale Lucas Plapp has now written himself, twice before as a lone ranger, today as part of a Team Jayco AlUla juggernaut hellbent on dominating the elite men’s road race at the 2024 Federation University RoadNats Ballarat.
Plapp and teammate Chris Harper won in a way never seen before over 21 editions of the race in Ballarat, a teammate one-two finish, with Harper crossing the line together with Plapp for the silver medal, 103-kilometres after the two went it alone at the front of the race.
As the two cruised down the final straight celebrating in tandem, it was Harper who drifted behind Plapp, allowing the two-time defending champion to become the fourth Australian to win a trifecta of elite road race national championships.
Six minutes later, Kelland O’Brien sprinted home for the bronze medal from a group of three chasers to complete the Team Jayco AlUla podium sweep.
“It’s all pretty surreal, it’s just an amazing way to start with this team and it’s been great fun this week,” Plapp said.
“Harps is amazing. He told me very early on that it’s mine and I can’t thank him enough. He’s such a class act and such a gentleman.
“That was amazing out there from the gun. We had everything under control and me and Harps had a great time out there – can't thank him enough.
“We just wanted to be in control the whole time and I think you saw we had everyone on the ropes from how well the team worked early.
“We went through and watched all the previous years and mistakes we made, our ways that we did it really well, and we just knew we always had to have numbers up the road.
“(We) had to make the individuals chase and me and Harps were just lucky that it was us two that had the legs to then counter off all the amazing work the team did for us. They set us up beautifully and I don’t think it was ever in the plan to go that early but me and Chris had some amazing legs, and we just made the most of it.”
Expected rain greeted the 96 starters for the 185.6-kilometre, 16-lap race around Buninyong, with aggressive racing kicking off from the first laps.
Within two laps, a breakaway of 14 riders formed containing notable pre-race favourites Harper, O’Brien, Sam Welsford (BORA – hansgrohe) and Simon Clarke (Israel-Premier Tech), along with Oceania road race champion Liam Walsh (Team BridgeLane), Rudy Porter (Team Jayco AlUla), perennial Mt Buninyoung threat Mark O’Brien (Carnegie Caulfield CC) and 2023 National Road Series winner Tristan Saunders (Team BridgeLane).
Plapp would bridge the gap from the peloton to the breakaway quickly, dragging Chris Hamilton (Team dsm–firmenich PostNL) with him.
At the halfway point, Harper and Plapp began their offensives.
First, it was Harper at the 122km to go point on the descent of Mt Buninyong with Welsford for company.
20km later on the Midland Highway, Plapp came roaring past leapfrogging his teammate and Welsford.
Harper would regain contact with Plapp before they turned the corner for Mt Buninyong in what would turn out to be the race-winning move.
The duo’s advantage increased lap after lap, blowing out to seven minutes at its largest to the main chasing group.
Michael Storer (Tudor Pro Cycling Team), Porter and Walsh separated themselves from the main chasing group with five laps to go but would be reeled back in with no progress made on reducing Plapp and Harper’s lead.
At 25km to go, Hamilton, O’Brien and Elliot Schultz (Team BridgeLane) went clear as group two on the road behind the leading duo in the fight for bronze.
Up ahead, the national championship was all but sealed for Team Jayco AlUla, with the biggest question now whether Plapp would make it a three-peat or Harper would win his maiden title after two podiums in 2018 and 2019.
In the end, it was Harper who selflessly settled for the silver medal, crowning Plapp as the national champion for 2024.
“To be honest, as soon as I knew it was me and Chris up there, we got first and second in the TT, I don’t think there was probably going to be anyone that could chase us down and we were really motivated,” Plapp said.
“So, between us, I think we both had confidence that was it and just ride it to the line and look after each other and make sure we get there.
“I don’t think we could have dreamed up this scenario but Caleb was always there if it came back and I’ve got no doubt that if it was a bunch sprint and had played out differently he would’ve been there.
“I’ve always had a team around me in the past with my only little group that I’ve been able to form but to have a team this year to do it. To do it with the Australian team, to be able to take the jersey back and race in Europe with the Australian team, with the Australian jersey, is amazing.
“I think the Aussies are back, GreenEdge is back.“
Harper said he was happy to see his new teammate win, explaining that he felt Plapp was the strongest of the two on the day.
“The last couple of laps I was hurting a bit up the climb, and he was still riding strong, so yeah, he definitely deserves it,“ Harper said.
“I mean the important thing today was to bring the jersey back to the team so, as long as one of us was in the jersey, that’s all that matters.
“I think we had a pretty good understanding. I sort of said to him, like, not many guys have gone three in a row, so it’s pretty special and yeah, he was pretty grateful as well that we could just ride to the finish together and enjoy it.”
Elite Men Road Race
Lucas PLAPP (Team Jayco AlUla) 4h34:26
Chris HARPER (Team Jayco AlUla) +0
Kelland O'BRIEN (Team Jayco AlUla) +6:09
Elliot SCHULTZ (Team BridgeLane) +6:09
Chris HAMILTON (Team DSM-Firmenich PostNL) +6:09
Liam WALSH (Team BridgeLane) +6:35
Simon CLARKE (Israel - Premier Tech) +6:35
Lucas HAMILTON (Team Jayco AlUla) +6:35
Nathan EARLE (JCL Team UKYO) +6:35
Tristan SAUNDERS (Team BridgeLane) +6:35