• Jenner crossed the line solo to win the day by 47 seconds. (Kathryn Watt)Source: Kathryn Watt
A bold attack by Sam Jenner (Subaru NSWIS) with just over 30 kilometres out from the finish secured a memorable victory for the 19 year old rider from Armidale in the Under 23 Nationals Road Race.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
7 Jan 2017 - 6:55 PM  UPDATED 9 Jan 2017 - 6:27 AM

The race started with a hot pace as a five-man breakaway emerged from the peloton with a larger group joining them a few laps later to swell the numbers in the front group to 21. The move included dangerous riders like Sam Jenner (Subaru NSWIS), Cyrus Monk (Drapac-Pat’s Veg), National Criterium champion Alex Porter (SASI) and track star Dan Fitter (Subaru NSWIS).

The majority of the favourites played it safe behind in the peloton, keeping the move in check without overreacting. With the break maintaining a steady pace, Dan Fitter jumped away and kept powering away from his previous companions. At one point he had four minutes but he overexerted himself and began to fade rapidly.

Behind him, the break remained solid whilst surges from the standout favourite going into the race, Lucas Hamilton (Jayco/John West/VIS), thinned out the peloton and brought the gap down rapidly.

A sortie from the breakaway attempted to bridge the gap to Fitter, Sam Hill (Phoenix Cycling Collective) and Nick White (Oliver’s Real Food Racing) almost managed to make it over to Fitter but by the time they had reached him both the original breakaway and the peloton was almost on top of them.

With the race almost all back together, the remnants of the breakaway had a meagre 25 second lead over the charging pack of favourites and it was Sam Jenner who launched his bid for victory on the back half of the course along Fiskens Road.

He pushed out the advantage rapidly but still had three ascents of Mt Buninyong to negotiate before he could begin to dream of victory. The pace he maintained was very impressive and he pushed out his advantage to a minute and 20 seconds with 17 kilometres remaining.

The attacks from the field began to come thick and fast, with Lucas Hamilton flying up the climb in an attempt to bridge over to the runaway leader. Each time he was marked and whilst his surges cut down the gap briefly, it would also shed riders from the group and reduce the overall cooperation of the chasers.

On the final lap, it was a fait accompli for Jenner as long as he didn’t blow up in dramatic fashion. In the end he was successful and rolled over the line punching the air in celebration before collapsing in an emotional display after the finish line. Jenner was emotional after claiming what was by far the biggest result of his career.

“A lot of hard work for me has gone into this,” said Jenner. “Last year was really tough for me, having crashes and falling ill but I never gave up. Just keep on getting up everytime after getting kicked down. To pull it off after all the hard work, it’s unbelievable.”

Whilst he looked in complete control tapping out a solid pace on the ascent of Mt Buninyong, Jenner revealed it was far from easy out in the hot conditions on course.

“It was a bit touch and go there, I was starting to cramp up the last hill but when I got to the top and still had a minute I thought I’d have a good chance of holding on. It was a question of holding as much as I could power-wise on the climb then recovering on the stretches down the hills.”

 “It’s weird you can sort of feel it but when there’s a gold medal on the line all the pain goes away.”

47 seconds later, the chasing group came in for a small bunch sprint at the finish, with criterium champion Alex Porter the fastest with Lucas Hamilton sprinting to third. Porter’s championships read very impressively with the silver medal going alongside his gold in the criterium and fourth in the time trial.

“I was hoping I’d be able to pull out some good results,” said Porter, “but I wasn’t expecting anything like what happened. I was definitely coming in looking to shake the label ‘just a track cyclist’, I’m hoping that now I’ve proved that.”

Lucas Hamilton again showed why he is so highly regarded within the sport and he wasn’t overly disappointed with his performance despite not getting the win that he wanted.

“I haven’t raced at this level since October so it’s always good to see that you’re coming in good form and you’re climbing really well. This was the start of many goals for the summer. It’s a national championships so you always want to rock up and be in your best form but obviously those tours are just as big goals and I’m looking forward to them.”

The Under 23 mens road race is a proving ground for the best riders in Australia with the last three winners (Caleb Ewan, Miles Scotson and Chris Hamilton) all going on to World Tour contracts. Keen scouts are watching on with selection for teams like the UniSA squad that contests the Tour Down Under and equivalent teams for the Cadel Evan’s Great Ocean Road Race and the Herald Sun Tour.

Perhaps the biggest prize is a spot on the Jayco World Tour Academy (WTA), which sees the riders supported in racing the biggest Under 23 events in Europe. From there many riders get selected to World Tour teams who look at races like the Tour de l’Avenir as a place to secure the next generation of superstars. James Victor, head coach of the WTA was one of the most interested observers and he spoke briefly pre-race about what the championships meant.

“It’s always a good indicator first up at the start of the year,” said Victor. “All the boys do a lot of preparation through the summer to be ready for this one race, to become national champion. It does open a few doors with the international level of racing that’s on in Australia.”

Final selections are still yet to be completed for the UniSA team for the Tour Down Under with Hamilton, Michael Storer, Jai Hindley and Callum Scotson on the team currently.

“There’ll be two free spots in those teams,” continued Victor. “I’d be keen, perhaps selfishly, for those spots to go to Under 23 riders but if a non-pro comes out and wins the elite race tomorrow then good luck to him.”