• Cameron Meyer wins the elite men's nationals road race for 2021 ahead of Kell O'Brien (AusCycling/Con Chronis)Source: AusCycling/Con Chronis
In a triumph of perseverance and after an attritional edition of nationals, it was Cameron Meyer who won the 2021 elite men's national road race.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

7 Feb 2021 - 6:12 PM  UPDATED 7 Feb 2021 - 7:11 PM

A race that went through seemingly a hundred different evolutions over its 185.6km length, just shy of five hours racing in what was a classic edition of the road national championships.

Meyer never looked the winner throughout, dropped at one point with two laps remaining but fighting back with the help of Luke Durbridge to claim a famous win.

"I drew on every bit of thirteen year's experience to pull that off," said Meyer, still full of adrenaline from the win. "Every lap I thought 'this isn't going to happen'. Somehow - the best teammate you can have, Luke Durbridge - popped up there right at the end and saved me."

Meyer sprinted to the win, just overhauling Kelland O'Brien (Inform TMX MAKE) on the line after the young star of track and road launched early in a bid for glory but faded after his long sprint, slipping to second. Scott Bowden followed Meyer's wheel in for third.

"I called on that experience I have there at the finish and I think that's what won it for me," said Meyer. "I just got the timing right and somehow pulled off a miracle today.

"When you come down to it after a hard race like today you've probably literally got 50-100 metres left in the legs until they start cramping. You could see everyone just sitting down hoping the line would come. Young Kell (O'Brien) went, Nick White went, they were who I had to get to go and run at them and win right on the line with the smallest margin."

Meyer and Team BikeExchange had to fight back a number of times throughout the race, having to chase down the initial breakaway, then 20-year-old phenom Luke Plapp, who looked the winner with a two minute and 10 second lead with 35 kilometres to race. Meyer himself was dropped at one point and luckily had Durbridge to help bring him back into contention.

"We thought we'd set it up well," said Meyer, "we had three in the front, but that didn't work out. Then, the boys were riding for me, trying to bring Plapp back. I was like 'oh, don't know if Plapp's going to come back, hopefully riding 16 laps is going to grab him'.

"It was just a never-say-die attitude, this race turns up great stories every year and this was one of them." 

The start of the race was expected to be chaotic, but it was comparatively calm compared to what was to come. A series of attacks from the peloton in the opening laps eventually formed into a massive group of 15 riders at the front of the race, trying to escape some of the favourites lurking back in the peloton.

Kaden Groves, Alex Edmondson, Damien Howson (all Team BikeExchange), Iven Bennet (Nero Continental), Angus Lyons (ARA-Sunshine Coast), Kell O'Brien (Inform TMX MAKE), Cyrus Monk (CycleHouse), Rylee Field, Alastair-Christie Johnston (both Team Bridgelane), Reece Tucknott, Brendan Johnston (both CCS Cycling), Sam Welsford (Australian Cycling Team), Daniel Luke (Avantias), Kane Richards (MEIYO-CCN), Harley Moore and Angus Calder.

The cooperation in such a large group wasn't very good, with riders attacking and getting brought back before the group reformed. A Sam Welsford attack finally stuck and he was joined by Johnston on the climb.
Johnston assumed the majority of the pace-making, particularly on the climb and forged an advantage of three minutes over the peloton.

O'Brien surge of pace with 100 kilometres to go split the main bunch and prompted the gap to the breakaway to drop for the front riders.

Harper attack 70 kilometres to go, bridged to chasing group with Luke Plapp on the wheel, really applying the pressure to the race with his attack, catching all but Johnston and Welsford with 65 kilometres to go.

A concerted chase from the peloton saw the strongest riders manage to rejoin with Harper. Plapp used the confusion in the catch to launch a new attack, shooting clear in pursuit of the two leaders.

Plapp caught and dropped Welsford and Johnston within a lap and set off on his solo effort in a bid to win the national championships road race.

Team BikeExchange took up the chase behind, their six-man team still intact despite the aggression, but Plapp continued to push out his advantage, stretching to a maximum of two minutes lead with two minutes and 10 seconds with 35 kilometres or three laps remaining.

BikeExchange riders dropped off one by one as they drove the pace in pursuit, burying themselves to chase Plapp. Harper attacked over the top as Durbridge swung off and by the top of the climb, a select group had formed in pursuit of Plapp with just a minute and 10 second deficit to the lone leader. Cameron Meyer (Team BikeExchange), Kelland O'Brien, Mark O'Brien (both Inform TMX MAKE, no relation), Jesse Ewart (Team Sapura), Nick White (Team Bridgelane) and Sebastian Berwick (Israel Start-Up Nation) were the riders to join Harper.

The Jumbo-Visma rider set off in pursuit of Plapp with Inform's O'Brien in tow policing the move and not helping.

As Harper approached a tiring Plapp, Berwick led a massive attack from the chasing group on the climb and caught Harper and O'Brien as they joined Plapp, making a group of four at the front of the race.

15 kilometres from the finish Harper and O'Brien dislodged Plapp and Berwick, with the new front pair coming through the start/finish with 15 seconds lead over the chasing pair, with 44 seconds to the chasing group, swelled by James Whelan (EF-Nippo), Tim Roe (Cervelo-Tonsley Village), Durbridge, Meyer and Scott Bowden. 

Harper blew up on the climb leaving Kell O'Brien to go solo, with the chasing group sweeping up Berwick and Plapp, before approaching O'Brien. 

The other O'Brien, Mark, took the chance to attack, with Bowden and White following the move create a new lead group.

The four worked well together, chased by Durbridge, Ewart, Meyer and Roe intensely, catching the front four as they reached Federation University with 5.5 kilometres remaining. Roe crashed coming out of the university, Mark O'Brien did well to avoid the fall and stay in the race, but it was Roe's chances of a top finish over.

There were a succession of attacks from there, shut down by Durbridge, but it was the return of Whelan who really injected some pace as he tried a flying attack after catching the group late from behind with 700 metres to go. That move was just reeled in by Durbridge, but was a springboard for O'Brien, who launched and tried to hold all the way to the finish. 

White set off in pursuit with an early sprint, but it was Meyer who emerged in the final metres to claim one of the most dramatic finishes in nationals history, one that was already renowned for it's nail-biting finales.