Aussie Focus

A very 'Hilly' attack for Tour de Brisbane win

Sam Hill (Nero Continental) drove a long attack with Joe Cooper (Giant Racing Team) all the way into the line to win a COVID-affected edition of the National Road Series' race (NRS), the Tour de Brisbane.

Hill makes no secrets of the fact that he loves a long-range move and it's been hard to miss him this year in the NRS. He attacked from the early break to form the eventual two-man move that stayed clear well into the Melbourne to Warrnambool and then backed up a week later at the Grafton to Inverell in the break of the day that eventually produced the winner, coming second to Rudy Porter (Inform TMX MAKE) on the day.

At Tour de Brisbane, Hill was again on the attack in a race that went ahead despite COVID restrictions threatening cancellation or another postponement of the event after it had already been pushed back twice. With travel restrictions for some states in place, it wasn't quite the entire domestic field present at the race, but still plenty of likely winners started in the pre-dawn darkness of Brisbane CBD.

The first surprise of the race was when the peloton accidentally got diverted onto the Mt Coot-tha climb early rather than taking in a larger lap of the surrounding country first. That saw the route altered mid-race, down from 125 kilometres to 108, with the three ascents of Mt Coot-tha the main feature of the race.


Hill spoke to SBS Cycling Central about how the race played out from there for him and his Nero Continental team.

“The plan was to get Jono or Myles in the break, then Dylan and I could chill in the bunch and hopefully another team would chase," said Hill. “Myles was already in a break when we got to the climb first time, he got caught up the top of the climb, it was pretty solid up the first time, but once we reached the freeway it was pretty much the full peloton again with only two ascents left in the race.

"That was when the attacks started flying. I was pretty heavily marked, I couldn’t get away as no one wanted to work with me. In the end, we got Myles in the break again which was awesome, but the problem was that the breakaway had a member from pretty much every team, except Giant.

"ARA had two, they wanted two because they had 12 starters. Giant had a half-hearted attempt at racing, the gap went out and out and eventually everyone sat up and the break went out to two minutes."

With the solid group of breakaway riders working well and looking like they might ride away with the victory, Nero were a bit concerned with their sprinter Stewart being relied upon to win from the move on the sharp ascent of Mt Coot-tha, 2.2 kilometres at 8.6 per cent.

"That’s when I started to panic a bit," said Hill. "Myles is a very good rider, but weren’t backing him to get over the final two ascents with the leaders and we wanted to win the race.

“I said to Dylan ‘let’s have a go up this next rise’. He got off the front solo and that made everyone in the pelo chase. Dylan himself took out 30-40 seconds of that gap.

"I counterattacked, somehow got away with Joe Cooper and a couple of others and we caught them at the base of the second ascent. As soon as we got over to them, I rode bottom to top at about 90 per cent pace and that was enough to drag myself and Joe Cooper away from the rest."

With the former two-time NRS and New Zealand national champion for company, the pair crested the climb with a scant advantage but were able to stretch it out over a chasing group that was swelled by the strongest climbers that had bridged from the peloton on the climb of Coot-tha.

"We weren’t too far away, we had about 20 seconds at the top, and we could see them on the freeway," said Hill. "It looked like a peloton of 20-30 riders who had caught the break.

"Joe said ’Sam, we’re not going to stay away, there’s eight ACA riders there all chopping off against two of us on an exposed freeway at fast speeds, it’s pointless’.

"I said , ‘Joe we can do this, we just to commit, we can crack them. We’re going fast as well, fast is good for us, if they’re doing more power, they’re not going that much faster anyway’. I eventually convinced him to roll through with me and once he did, the gap went out and out, by the base of the final climb we had 40 seconds.

"I launched at 110 per cent, unsustainably hard to get rid of Joe. I did gap him but he held me at five seconds all the way up the climb caught me with 500 metres to go then nearly rode me off the wheel, I was very much on my limit. 

"We got to the top of the final climb and Joe was like ‘C’mon Sam! We need really need to go’." 

From there it was a hard pursuit into the finish, with Ryan Cavanagh (St George Continental) and Rhys Robotham (Oliver's Real Food Racing) trying to hunt down the escaped duo that had made the going for most of the race.

"We committed on the descent and once we were down the bottom we saw there were two chasers behind, Ryan Cavanagh and Rhys Robotham. We just sort of held them, I kept looking over my shoulder, which probably isn’t the thing to do, but I couldn’t help myself.

"They weren’t catching us too quickly so I thought there was a chance with just 10 kilometres to go from the base of the climb to the finish. It was a very fast 10 kilometres with long downhill sections and going through the tunnel at speed.

"With three kilometres to go, I thought we had it, so I tried to think about how to win the race. I don’t know how Joe sprints, so I thought I might leave it late.

"With 500 metres to go I caught him off-guard and powered away over a steep pinch turned right and then plummeted down the descent to the finish, before I knew it I’d won the race.”

Hill saluted the win with open arms, Cooper rolling over the line behind for second with Cavanagh finishing faster than Robotham to round out the podium, the pair finishing just 13 seconds behind Hill after their determined chase. 

Cameron Scott (ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) jumped clear of the remnants of the main bunch to show that his recovery from an awful crash in the NRS National Tour at the end of last year is proceeding well, leading the peloton over the line 45 seconds down on the race winner. 

Hill has made a habit of strong rides, but they don't always convert into wins, and his last victory at NRS level came in 2019. It is a definitive 'Hill' trait, both he and his older brother, Ben, make a habit of inserting themselves into attacking moves throughout races, leaving others to sit back and wait for the end of the race.

“The long efforts are really where my strength lies," said Hill. "I’m a decent climber, but a long-range attack is what suits me most. There’s nothing worse than crossing the line and not having used all your energy, if in doubt empty the tank.”

Hill was all praise for his Nero Continental teammates, who had all played their part in delivering him for the win.

“I don’t know how you race as an individual against teams, I guess you just have to hope," said Hill, "but when you race with a team that puts aside their own chances, that’s when you can have success. It really did feel like a good team victory."

The 2021 Tour de Brisbane didn't result in any of the top riders accruing points for the overall NRS teams or individual title, a product of the reality that not all riders and teams could make it to Brisbane Cycling Festival to race. Despite the mistaken diversion onto the wrong course, which also affected the women's race, the general feeling from the weekend of riding on shutdown central Brisbane roads was welcomed, with the King St criterium, in particular, a big hit. Hill was a big fan of the unique climb of Mt Coot-tha, just a short distance from the city and utilised well on the course.

“Descending down Mt Coot-tha you could see the sunrise over the skyline of Brisbane," said Hill, "it’s super unique for an NRS event and hard to top."

The NRS was scheduled to continue with the Tour of the Tropics in Cairns starting from July 30, but at this stage, it appears that the event will be postponed.   

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9 min read
Published 22 July 2021 at 5:02pm
By Jamie Finch-Penninger