• Matt Rice wins the Under 23 men's national criterium championships (AusCycling/Con Chronis)Source: AusCycling/Con Chronis
Matt Rice proved his pedigree in the national criterium championships in Ballarat, surging to the win with an impressive sprint to beat the stellar crop of sprinters present.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

6 Feb 2021 - 9:37 AM 

There was a small amount of attacking during the racing, at least relative to the normal amount of aggression in the event, but the tight finish was inevitable for the Under 23 Men with so many teams content with a sprint for their leaders. Matthew Rice (ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) claimed the green and gold jersey ahead VeloFit Australia's Bryce Lanigan and ARA-Sunshine Coast rider Craig Wiggins.

"It's up there as one of the best moments of my career so far, I'm pretty stoked with it," said Rice. "It's one of the best feelings of my life, it's pretty special to me as this is something I have always wanted to win. It felt cool."

"My teammates rode amazingly to get me to the front, and they went from top of the back straight on the last lap to take me all the way to the front. This enabled me to get the legs out to run away with it and take the win."

His trade team have a high opinion of the sprinter, who has previously distinguished himself with overseas wins at the Tour of America's Dairylands, one of the biggest races on the US criterium circuit. Team manager Ben Kersten was of the opinion that he'd 'start winning everything from now on'. When put to Rice, he seemed confident that he could stand up to the hype.

"Yeah, I hope so! We’ll see," said Rice. "Hopefully I can see a few finishes throughout the year."

Elite and U23 women's criterium highlights

The Under 23 womens criterium championships was raced within the elite women's race and Maeve Plouffe (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) was awarded gold in the under 23 classification after finishing fourth across the line behind the three elite podium placegetters, recovering from a crash early in the race to get up for a big result.

"It's a really hectic race when we combine the elite women and the under-23 It adds a whole new dynamic to it because you're potentially sprinting for fourth like it's first which is what I was doing today," said Plouffe.

"I was a little bit shaken after that crash I'm not going to lie, especially around that bottom corner, but I'm super happy I didn't give up in the last straight".

Plouffe fell alongside Jessica Allen early in the race and was still sporting her damaged knicks at the finish in the media area with Annette Edmondson, her track teammate who had taken out the victory in the elite women's race and signalled that she might not race beyond the Olympics.

"It was so excited for Nettie to get the win in what might be her last road nationals," said Plouffe. "I couldn’t believe it, I was so excited when she came over, but also my ARA team mates – how strong they rode in that race. Obviously getting Ruby up for a medal as well was a massive goal ticked off."

For Plouffe, the focus has been on making the Olympics as the youngest rider on the track endurance squad. She's was selected in last year's team for the 2020 event, with the 21-year-old slated to be part of the team pursuit squad in Tokyo.

"The focus is completely on Tokyo," said Plouffe. "I’m one of the younger girls in the Olympic squad. Well, I’m the youngest, so it’s all about learning for me and just stepping up to the next level on the track and in the team pursuit especially."

Earlier in the day, Carnegie Caulfield's Lucy Stewart won the under 19 women's event after a two-up sprint with Haylee Fuller (Sydney Uni-Staminade) after establishing a move off the front of the peloton early in the race. Stewart had the most left in her legs at the finish and won the sprint to the line comfortably.


Sophie Marr (Blackburn CC) produced a gallant ride for third, just missing the initial attack and then being stuck between the peloton and the lead pair, but soloed in for the bronze.

In the under 19 men's race, Canberra's Cameron Rogers, nephew of three-time world time trial champion Michael Rogers, sprinted to the win from a strong group containing Zac Marriage (Butterfields-InsuranceNet) and James Panizza (Balmoral Cycling Club).

The race was flat-out from the start, with the decisive attack forming midway through. Everyone on the course was just riding as hard as they could the entire time, and there was little in the way of tactical baulking from the front trio as they rode to the finish, with a terrific sprint between Rogers and Marriage to decide the winner, with Panizza third.