• Alistair Donohoe (4th wheel) chasing three of the best at the 2019 Jayco Herald Sun Tour. (Con Chronis)Source: Con Chronis
The Jayco Herald Sun Tour is an opportunity for the spotlight to shine on riders that have never competed at a higher level. Such was the case with Australian Paralympian Alistair Donohoe (Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) who shone in the breakaway in each of the final two stages.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
5 Feb 2019 - 9:28 AM  UPDATED 5 Feb 2019 - 9:39 AM

Donohoe was once again in the thick of the action in Stage 5 despite emptying himself during one of the hardest days in Herald Sun history the previous day.

Jumping in the breakaway after a hard-fought first few laps around the Royal Botanic Gardens, Donohoe was one of the more prominent members of the move and one of the last brought back as the peloton swooped in the final lap.

“It’s like a home race for me,” Donohoe said, “racing around the botanical gardens was an awesome idea when I first heard about it. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to race from the front or wait for the bunch kick. The opportunity arose – I had a teammate come back from the break and I was in a good position – and I thought this is a pretty good break, let’s give it a crack.

“It was such a hot day, you don’t know if the peloton is going to disintegrate or bring you back easily. In the end, they timed it pretty well and brought it back on the last lap. I had a lot of fun out there, lots of my friends and family came out to watch, it was just a good feeling.”

The break was caught after a hard chase with Donohoe receiving the jersey for being the most aggressive rider of the stage.

Donohoe’s performance was more impressive than it seemed on the surface, with the 23-year-old backing up his fourth-placed finish up Arthur’s Seat with another day in a long-range move. He was clearly enjoying himself out on course, smiling as he lapped up the bellowed encouragement from the sides of the road.

“I was feeling good, surprisingly after yesterday,” he said. “My feelings were that I’d be a little worse for wear but I got out there and I was having a great time out there. We started to rip it towards the end, I’m not sure if I was smiling then, but I was still having a good time.”

The Melbourne based rider has had a different route into the sport than most, having been born in the Northern Territory township of Nhulunbuy and mixing his elite road racing with para events as a C5 competitor after an accident as a teenager left him with limited use of his right arm.

Donohoe is perhaps best known for a crash in the C5 road race at the Paralympics, when he fell with Ukrainian Yehor Dementyev, who was angling Donohoe into the barriers in the run to the finish rather than sprinting.

Since then, Donohoe has claimed the 2018 world championships in the C5 road race and is clearly enjoying his cycling after a tough few years.

“After my 2017 season where I got a bit injured and a bit sick – it really didn’t go how I wanted it to as a last year under 23,” he said. “I’ve really started this year on a high with a new team and back under the wing of Stu Shaw (Pro Racing Sunshine Coast high-performance director) who I worked with two years back in 2015, 2016.

“It’s just awesome to be back under Stu and Benny’s (Ben Kersten, Pro Racing Sunshine Coast sports director) guidance and presence. I’m really motivated to have a proper crack this year and it will all go towards Tokyo 2020 as well.”

“After Rio when I came home with two silvers, I didn’t come back with that gold I wanted. That’s still a massive target in my sights for now.”

The Jayco Herald Sun Tour acts as the biggest race of the season for many of the locally based Australian continental squads, with the chance to race in the home country and show off their sponsors against some of the best teams in the world.

A lot of planning goes into the event, preparation that fell apart for Pro Racing Sunshine Coast about 35 kilometres into Stage 3 when national road race champion and team leader Michael Freiberg crashed out of the race.

“We always had Freiberg pencilled in for that day three and when me and him hit the deck, that was kind of a really disappointing day for the team,” Donohoe said. “Both of us really wanted to be aggressive that day, really wanted to be in the move.

“Freiberg didn’t finish and once I got back to the peloton there was a move that stuck. I was pretty down about that and I really wanted to rectify the situation yesterday and I managed to do that.

“We sat down as a team and talked about the stages individually and collectively about what fit and what didn’t. For a long, long time since nationals I’ve been hoping for that Arthur’s Seat stage, cutting laps, doing efforts with the hope of doing well.”

While most eyes were concentrated on the front pair of Schultz and van Baarle, or secondarily on the chase from the likes of Chris Harper (Bridgelane), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and Michael Woods (EF Education First), Donohoe was there on the final ascent of Arthur’s Seat, fighting searing heat, pain and the other competitors to see if he could claim one of the biggest results of his career.

“I got a few time gaps going up the hill and in that last lap,” Donohoe said. “I kind of knew they were coming and getting closer. I was kind of expecting them to catch, expecting them to catch me every time I looked around.

“I looked back with a kilometre to go and I could see them fifty metres behind. I just closed my eyes and went as hard as I could, only to open them again and look at the big screen and see Sky and Elissonde come charging at me, but I managed to hold them off which was a great relief after such a hard day."

The Herald Sun Tour offers these rare moments where the superstars of the WorldTour come up against local riders with completely different ambitions.

The likes of Woods and Porte may be battling it for podiums at Grand Tours in the rest of 2019, but they couldn’t drag back the Nhulunbuy boy on Arthur’s Seat on this day in February.