It was a 1-2-3 for Michelton-Scott in their debut race as they completed a podium sweep of the under 23 Oceania Championships in Canberra. Lucas Hamilton was first across the finish, beating out Michael Storer and Jai Hindley in the dash to the line after the leading trio had dropped everyone except Sean Lake (IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness). Lake was riding his own race for the elite title and ended with the odd situation where he sat up whilst the Under 23s sprinted for the finish, content that he had the elite title sewn up.
It was a very hard day in the saddle for the 110-strong peloton, the 32 degree heat was not helped by the challenging terrain, which saw riders having to cope with a rapid succession of climbs throughout the race. A steady flow of riders were shelled off the back of the peloton in the opening kilometres before a move was finally formed.
Jason Lea (IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness), Brad Evans (Drapac-Pat’s Veg) and new St George Continental recruit Marcus Culey were the successful three out a flurry of attacks that tried to escape from the main bunch. The trio worked together well but never allowed much of a leash, with their greatest advantage getting out to two minutes and eight seconds.
From there, the move was reeled back in gradually with the start of the first of two finishing circuits seeing the catch of the early move. The pace was accelerated on the main climb of the day Mt McDonald which was followed by multiple attacks on the Three Sisters. An elite group of 10 riders formed off the front and speared off in pursuit of victory with most of the major names present.
A small regrouping occurred through the start of the final circuit but the Michelton-Scott team again applied the pressure on the climbs. Jesse Featonby (Drapac-Pat’s Veg), Sean Lake and Jason Christie were the only elite riders to be able to match it with the youngsters. Christie was dropped and Featonby tried an attack of his own but it didn’t get enough of an advantage as he was caught by Lake, Hamilton, Hindley and Storer as they came to the Three Sisters again.
Another forcing of the pace dropped Featonby and it was just Lake left on the rolling descent to the finish. A short-lived attack from Storer was brought back by Lake and the Michelton-Scott trio was content to sit on Lake’s wheel as he was happy to work for his elite win. The three then sprinted against each other in the run to the line with Hamilton taking the win by over a bike length from Storer with Hindley third.
The team congratulated each other as a whole after the event with the spirit of the group clearly well intact after strong showings throughout the Australian summer. Hamilton spoke after taking one of the biggest wins of his career.
“It was one of those races where you just stomp the pedals all day,” said Hamilton. “It was always up or down, there was no flat. For us, we wanted to make sure that it was a climbing race and the climbs were the selective part.”
Coming off the Herald Sun Tour where Hindley took second, Storer fifth and Hamilton seventh, the young stars of Australia clearly delivered a message to their older opponents that a generational shift is on its way.
“We came into the racing probably lacking numbers but to be the young guys and probably some of the favourites, it was something to be proud of. Then to deliver, it was even more special.”
Competition between teammates for places can lead to awkward situations but it was simple enough in the end for Michelton-Scott as they left it for the sprint to decide things.
“We just raced to the line as usual,” said Hamilton. “We definitely had the numbers in the moves but to get a complete podium is not a bad effort, especially as we were debuting the new team colours.”
Sean Lake was the elite winner after proving himself again that he has what it takes to be at the top in the one-day races. He becomes the only rider to have completed the double win in the road race and time trial after managing the same feat last year after taking advantage of getting in the early breakaway to win.
“I guess last year was more of a surprise,” said Lake, “this year I was really targeting it and looking to go well on what was a really hard course. It was a bit interesting with all the young guys mixing it up and the World Tour Academy guys were all really good. I couldn’t get rid of any of them but it feels good to take out the elite category.”
The wins come as almost completely different performances. Lake was pigeon-holed as a powerful racer with bulky former rower not rated over the climbs as much as others. He has slimmed down a lot since and has shown that he has the potential to climb with the best.
“That’s absolutely it,” said Lake, “I’ve really changed the type of rider that I am. Now I’ve got the confidence and lost a bit of weight I can climb really well. Instead of having to rely on an audacious move from the break I can wait and play with the big dogs and fight for the win that way.”
The dynamic of having the under 23 race with the elite men's was an odd one out on course as teams and race radio scrambled to work out which riders were still in contention in the chasing groups. Despite having a host of Under 23 riders around him, Lake remained focused on the senior event with the heat of the day playing to his advantage.
“It was a bit awkward but before that, I was playing the game with the other elite guys that were around, Jesse Featonby and Jason Christie. I managed to get rid of them eventually. That’s what I had to do and not worry about any of the Under 23 guys. I think every single long race that I’ve won has been really hot weather. I love it, really enjoy the heat.”
Lake will have a number of opportunities to show off his climbing form in high profile Asian racing, with the Tour de Taiwan next on the agenda for the Victorian.
“There are some really good races coming up to try my legs, the Tour de Taiwan is a really high-level race. If I am climbing with the big dogs then that’s my opportunity to show that I’ve really changed the type of rider that I am.”
Neil van der Ploeg (IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness) pulled off a gutsy silver medal, just outsprinting fellow Albury local Jesse Featonby (Drapac-Pat’s Veg) in the reduced bunch sprint behind the four leaders.