Bravo Bobridge - colossal ride to claim crown in Buninyong
21 year old South Australian Jack Bobridge has been crowned Australian elite men's road race champion after a magnificent performance that saw him cross the line today alone after holding off a concerted chase by Australian cycling royalty in the 163.2km, 16 lap race at the 2011 Mars Cycling Australia Road National Championships in Buninyong.
Despite his youth Bobridge has already tasted success at world level with victory in the U23 men's time trial at the 2009 UCI Road World Championships in Switzerland and gold medals on the track at both the World Championships and Commonwealth Games.
But today was a colossal performance by the Garmin-Cervelo team member who broke free from the leading group with three laps remaining in the race to cross the line in 4:12:42, 37 seconds ahead Tasmania's Matthew Goss with Victorian Simon Gerrans in third place.
"Anyone would say they would love to be the Australian open road champion, so to get one is absolutely fantastic, I am over the moon," said Bobridge. "You can come here saying you want to do well but to actually do it is another story, it's just fantastic.
"Just to be able to wear the (Australian) colours this year in the pro peloton is fantastic and it's great to keep it in the team once again after Travis held it for the team last year," said Bobridge of his Garmin-Cervelo team mate Travis Meyer.
Bobridge claimed both the Australian under 23 road race and time trial championships as a nineteen year old in 2009. Although still under 23 he is ineligible to ride that category because he now races in the UCI WorldTour professional ranks.
A tremendous field of 159 riders started the soul destroying 163.2 kilometre epic in which only 48 finished.
Bobridge signalled his intention early when he bridged across on his own on the fourth lap to join a lead group of six riders which included Chris Jongewaard, Patrick Shaw, Rhys Pollock, Fabio Calabria, Jai Crawford and Chris Jory.
Close to halfway the front seven riders held a lead of around three minutes with six riders trying to chase them down but then the peloton dropped the hammer and the race blew apart. At the front Bobridge and Crawford reacted by launching an attack while in the bunch Team Sky was driving hard on the front in a bid to set up their man Simon Gerrans.
Just inside the start of the third lap, Bobridge dropped Crawford and struck out on his own while some of the biggest names in Australian and world cycling desperately tried to catch him.
The peloton collected everyone else in its path and began closing in on Bobridge but he rose to the challenge and maintained his lead while his major challengers, including Goss, Gerrans and Bernard Sulzberger led a concerted chase. Also with them, but to protect the lead of their team mate, were Bobridge's fellow Garmin-Cervelo riders Cameron Meyer and last year's winner Travis Meyer.
With half a lap to go it seemed Bobridge might be caught as the the chase came to within 20 seconds but he found something extra and using his time trial skills surged ahead to wrap up the title.
HTC-Highroad's Goss, from Tasmania, won the sprint for silver ahead of home state favourite Gerrans (Team Sky) who claimed the bronze medal.
"At first I thought I have got a bit excited and gone too early," said Bobridge, "But this course is pretty demanding with the wind, and we knew that to even bridge a three minute gap was going to hurt anyone.
"When I heard who was behind me, it definitely got me going as (with those) world class riders behind me, it was definitely worrying as I could see them there up the climb every lap," he said. "But with one and a half to go, I just buried it and managed to stay just out of sight.
"I rode to my threshold and luckily enough I was obviously well and fit enough to hold that position," added Bobridge.
After a stellar 2010 Bobridge came here with his sights were firmly set on adding this road crown to his growing list of accolades.
"I came here with expectations to go really well, and last month I have been back home training pretty hard looking after myself, (so) I knew I came here with good training under the belt, but not racing so that always leaves a bit of a question.
"But I just had one of those days where everything falls (into place) and you feel well," he added.
For Goss, it was a bitter sweet result.
"It is the worst place you can finish, so close to having the jersey, but I am happy with the result, as it's a good indication for the start of the season," said the 24 year old. "I knew if it came back together for a sprint finish, I knew I had a good chance, so it would have been nicer if it came back together as it's always better to ride for the win rather than the silver medal.
"But it was a strong ride by Jack, so all credit to him," added Goss.
Gerrans, 30, was also happy to secure a podium finish and lauded his younger opponent.
"It was certainly an impressive ride from Jack today and we are definitely seeing the start of a fantastic career," said Gerrans. "I did everything I could to try to win today's race and in the end we were outclassed.
"In the end, I have no regrets, I did everything I could to try to break the field up and get across to Jack, but to his advantage, he had Cam and Trav Meyer sitting on the chase group and that always mucks up the rhythm a little bit of the group.
"I thought we were in with a good shot with a few laps to go, but my teammates really rode their guts out today and gave me every opportunity to win the race," added Gerrans.
Tasmania's Bernie Sulzberger finished fourth to secure a place as the final rider in the UniSA-Australia national team for next week's Santos Tour Down Under in South Australia, the opening event of the 201 UCI WorldTour Calendar.
Competition at the 2011 Mars Cycling Australia Road National Championships will wrap up on Tuesday when time trial medals are decided at Learmonth.