The one rider who was able to follow was a little known 40-year-old from Roxsolt-Attaquer, Justine Barrow, who became the oldest-ever rider to podium in a national championships road race.
A late start to cycling hasn’t hampered the career development of Barrow, with the accredited sports physiotherapist pursuing her own athletic development later.
She’s been a consistent feature among the top riders on the National Road Series in the last few seasons, and is a danger whenever there’s a hill in the race parcours.
Barrow showed that during the road race, with one of the best cyclists in the world - Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) - unable to shake her despite attacking up Mt Buninyong.
“I do love when the road goes up! Amanda is a phenomenal athlete, so I was surprised I was able to hold on to her attacks,” Barrow said.
That the Victorian made the move at all was a near thing, as she found herself out of position as the rest of the peloton failed to follow the bold move of Brown and Spratt at such an early point of the race.
“When I saw Grace and Amanda go up the road, I was actually a bit back and wasn’t well positioned,” she said.
“I saw that it was a dangerous move, and it ended up being the move of the day.”
“The first couple of laps I did some work establishing the break. After that I was in a great position that I could sit with them and Grace Brown did an amazing amount of work.”
Barrow has a unique connection with her Roxsolt-Attaquer team, not only as a member of the squad but a co-owner along with fellow athlete Peta Mullens and founder Kelvin Rundle.
From owning her own physiotherapy clinic and building her career earlier in life, Barrow is now throwing herself into the sport with gusto, work that is bearing fruit.
“It’s a reward for the hard work that I’ve done,” Barrow said.
“Particularly the last couple of years: cycling’s my priority, it’s in my blood, it’s my passion.
“I also get really nervous and anxious about it. I was nervous coming into this event, to the extent I was thinking ‘do I still really want to be doing this, putting myself through this?’ A result like this makes it all worthwhile.”
Barrow doesn’t just mouth the words about dedication and commitment, she lives them as well.
When it looked as if she would be sidelined heading into climbing-heavy races in the tours of Tasmania and Bright, after breaking her scaphoid, Barrow took her handlebars in to get a cast made up that would allow her to train and race for her big goals of the season.
Spratt paid tribute to Barrow after the race, sayingshe found the fellow climber impossible to shake on Mt Buninyong.
“I knew that she’s a very strong rider,” Spratt said.
“I looked through the recent results from the Tour of Tassie, Tour of Bright and she’s definitely someone right at the top of my list. I do follow the NRS (National Road Series) while I’m home and keep an eye on those results.
“Regardless, I’m in good shape here, I tried to attack and I couldn’t get away. I was very impressed.”
Roxsolt-Attaquer founder and part-owner, Kelvin Rundle, talked of the development of Barrow over the past years.
“A few years ago, you would have put her down as a pure climber,” Rundle said.
“But I think she’s shown that she’s now quite a versatile rider.”
“Everyone’s really happy with how today went, we had three riders in the top 10 at nationals, which is a phenomenal result.”
Roxsolt-Attaquer are building their reputation as one of the improving teams within the world peloton, a UCI-registered team that has ambitions for the future.
With Sarah Gigante’s national road race win for the team last year backed up with another podium, as well as fourth place for Emily Herfoss, the team is clearly one to watch closely.
“You just need to look at the results from today, the top eight riders are all riding for UCI teams,” Rundle said.
“Mitchelton-Scott are one of the best teams in the world and putting Justine in the break with them shows the calibre of our team and the National Road Series and the level it has got to.”
Barrow and Roxsolt-Attaquer will be in action throughout the Australian summer, with the Tour Down Under and the Herald Sun Tour their immediate goals.