• Kaden Groves wins the elite men's criterium at the 2021 Federation University National Road Championships (AusCycling/Con Chronis)Source: AusCycling/Con Chronis
A very attacking edition of the men's national criterium championships came down to a late attack with Kaden Groves (Team BikeExchange) sprinting to the win ahead of Nick White (Team Bridgelane).
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

5 Feb 2021 - 10:37 PM 

Durbridge was the strongest out there on the day, forcing the winning move of the day with seven laps to go and delivering sprinter Kaden Groves to the position to sprint for the win. Groves duly delivered, sprinting clear from White in the finale to salute in style.

"Yeah, Im prety stoked," said Groves. "I felt a bit of pressure coming in here. It's always hard, it's a really good field here and all the guys in Oz are at a really high level at the moment. 

"I was disappointed at my second place in the TDU in the criterium. If there's one to win, I would have picked this one, it's really special."

The attacks were flying all throughout the race, with Team BikeExchange the instigator in most moves, not a a traditional way to attack a race with a sprinter of the pedigree of Groves.

"I was struggling all day to be honest," said Groves. "I think the endurance started to come through at about 40 minutes. Once it was starting to get hard and I was feeling the worst I thought 'it's probably about time to go'.

"With the tailwind down the back straight everyone gets pretty fresh and recovers, the attacking into the headwind was pretty much non-stop until that last ten minutes. We sort of went in with a plan not just to ride for myself and ride for a sprint, we rode for an open race so any one of us could try and win the jersey."

Groves laid a lot of the praise for the win at Durbridge's feet, as he rode a superb race to help deliver Groves to the finish. 

"He's on some really good form," said Groves. "He's probably a bit angry about his TT on Wednesday, but he's super and I think on Sunday he'll be in with a shot."

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The 20-year-old came into the time trial with a lot of hype around his performance at the Santos Festival of Cycling, but few were expecting him to dominate his competition in such stellar fashion, finishing over a minute ahead of four-time champion Luke Durbridge (Team BikeExchange) and Kell O'Brien (Inform TMX MAKE).

The pace was hot from the starting gun and the field began to stretch and splinter, losing riders as the attacks started taking their toll. Each and every move was brought back in the early stages, with Luke Durbridge (Team BikeExchange) and Kelland O'Brien (Inform TMX MAKE) the most active in trying to get off the front of the race. 

It appeared to be a strategy to tire out and isolate defending champion Sam Welsford (Australian Cycling Team), who had beaten Groves in the final stage of the Santos Festival of Cycling.

Despite the aggression, no move last longer than a few laps of the 1.1 kilometre circuit in the centre of Ballarat as pace surges and ebbs allowed the race to reform each time. 

The peloton was getting increasingly ragged towards the end of proceedings, with tired legs slow to respond to each new move. 

With seven laps to go it was Durbridge who launched the decisive move, with hometown hero White following his wheel, and Groves scrambling across to latch onto his teammate's attack with Pat Lane (Inform TMX MAKE) in tow.

Lane, a former podium finisher at the nationals road race, has been out of top-level racing for years now, he's the sports director for Inform TMX MAKE most of the time, and he was dropped by the relentless pace-setting of Durbridge.

Behind, with the two strongest teams in the race in BikeExchange and Bridgelane represented at the front, it was quickly clear that the chase from the peloton was going to be futile and O'Brien and Matt Ross (CycleHouse) attacked individually, with O'Brien dangling just behind the leading trio for the closing laps, but unable to catch the Durbridge-led group.

Groves and White got towed in the finish straight by a tiring Durbridge, with White having to launch his sprint first after being maneuvered to the front by Groves. The Queenslander was able to come round the Ballarat local comfortably in the finish, celebrating his first elite national criterium title.

White in second was happy with his runner-up spot, as he feels more set for an attempt at the road race on Sunday than the criterium. 

"Yeah, pretty stoked with it," said White. "I definitely wasn’t expecting this at all. I was just coming into it using it as a bit of opener for Sunday. But, as always, I love racing so I was going to leave everything out on the road, and I got fortunate enough I was on Durbo when he went.

"It’s pretty hard to follow, but I managed to just kinda hold the wheel for as long as I could and got around to the finish."

Like Groves, White echoed the attacking nature of the race, that helped produce such a reduced group finish.

"Super attacking," said White. Like compared to the previous few years I’ve done, even in the Under-23s I’ve never raced that attacking. It was just full gas the whole time.

"There was never a lull, there was never a sense of control, really, throughout the race, so year, definitely super hard race, but yeah good times, a good omen ahead of Sunday hopefully."