The 267-kilometre course showed again why the race is renowned as one of the hardest races in Australian cycling as the race split up right near the finish, with Jensen Plowright (Team Bridgelane) then attacking clear for a famous solo victory.
The race settled down into a steady pace after a hot start had seen attacks aplenty on the run out from Avalon Airport towards Colac. Two riders, Sam Hill (Nero Continental) and Raphael Freienstein (Inform TMX MAKE) were off the front with only each other for company for 120 kilometres after already being a part of an initial nine rider attack.
Hill and Freienstein lost their cooperative spirit at the front of the race and it became apparent that they would be caught by the peloton from behind as all the big teams massed towards the front. Upon catching the pair, there was an uneasy run to the line, with the constant threat of attacks and flurries off the front of the peloton seeing small groups go clear before being brought back into the fold.
Finally, a large group managed to surge clear on a hill coming into the outskirts of Warrnambool, with just six kilometres of the 267-kilometre course left to race. Plowright launched the decisive attack with just over a kilometre to go and managed to hold off the charging pack behind to take the victory.
Plowright becomes the youngest winner since Will Walker in 2004, with Ben Hill coming home at the head of the chasing group to claim a famous 1-2 for premier domestic squad Team Bridgelane. Liam White (Oliver’s Real Food Racing) completed the podium with a fine ride for third.
“I am feeling on top of the world at the moment,” said Plowright. “I cannot believe I won that and Ben Hill second. I came into this going good and wanting to win it but there are 200 dudes in the race and it’s 270 kilometres, what are the chances?
“I got a sniff at the end there coming round the corner. Everyone sat up and I had good legs so I just gassed it.”
Plowright is regarded as one of the finest talents on the domestic scene, a road sprinter who also has strong success on the track with a mindset of a winner. He revealed the thoughts of a potential debut triumph at just 20 years of age had played on his mind ahead of the race.
“I thought about it. Everybody dreams,” said Plowright. “I did sleep on it last night, and I did want to win it. I know it’s my first time but I’ve always been good at long-distance races and rides. I always thought I’d win this, but to do it first time… one from one, it’s pretty good.”
The enormity of the win wasn’t lost on the young phenom, the momentous nature of winning the 105th edition of a race that has been taken out by legends of Australian cycling in the past.
“It sunk in when I crossed the line,” said Plowright. “I’ve seen pictures of the past winners, they’re all hitters. How good is this?”
Matilda Raynolds (Specialized Women’s Racing) was triumphant in defending her title in the women’s event, finishing ahead of Justine Barrow (Roxsolt Liv SRAM) and Nicole Frain (Sydney Uni Staminade).