Tristan triumphs while Froome zooms in Australia’s oldest one day road race.
Cycling legend and multiple Grand Tour winner Chris Froome has described the Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool as a ‘great race but brutal’, after surviving over seven hours on the bike to finish in 12th position behind winner Tristan Saunders (Team BridgeLane) in front of a huge crowd in Warrnambool. Saunders solo ride home finished nearly 3 minutes ahead of Brendan Green (Cycling Development Foundation) and local Camperdown 19year old Bailey McDonald (NCMG Criterion Racing).
The race started in rainy and overcast conditions at Avalon Airport, conditions that gave Froome a bumpy ride in on his charter flight from the Victorian High Country and he hustled to get on the start line. Once the gun was fired there was some early breaks before a couple of riders made the move stick with a group of 16 established off the front. and a chasing group that included Saunders who already had some team mates in the front break.
Most of the big NRS teams were represented in the lead pack, so the peloton momentarily took the foot off the gas, which did not help Froome who was riding as an individual. As the race rattled through Colac early favourite Kane Richardson (ARA Skip Capital) had emerged as a danger with the front group, while Malta’s Joesph Bonello and Sam Jenner (Team BridgeLane) animated the race on plenty of occasions through the nearly 270 km journey to the southwest coast.
Conditions cleared as the morning cloud burnt off and the roads dried with clothing layers shed. The leaders got out to a gap of over 4-minutes, before the chasers and the front group were brought together and that larger 20-strong pack keep pushing the pedals hard. The peloton, including Froome, was facing a large margin and hard to work hard to stay relevant in the race.
Jack Aitken, Bonello and Mackenzie Edwardson (Blackshaw Racing) were splitting the Deakin University Sprint Classification points while the SRAM Mountain Classification saw Aitken, Bonello and Jenner vying for the title.
Bonello and Jenner worked hard again to establish a 2.30m gap with another attack inside the final 80 Kms. Tristan Saunders, and a couple of others hit back off the front of the chasing group to close the gap.
The peloton was being shredded as they hit the winds on the Great Ocean Road and the pace was ramped up s riders could sense the end of the second oldest one day race in the world. Team mates Jenner and Saunders combined amongst a group of nine, while back in the pack Froome and Ben Hill (Blackshaw Racing) chased hard and broke away to narrow the gap to 4.30m.
Tristan Saunders – Winner Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool 2023
Inside the final 20kms Saunders made his move, a brave solo effort that stuck and saw him ride away from the podium place-getters to claim the biggest win of the 22 year olds career and join the prestigious honour role of the famous race.
“I’ve always really like the prestige around this race, it’s so much history, the first time I came here I didn’t even race I just watched it. Actually, I was here for the tour of great south coast or something and I saw the finish line and I just really loved the feel of it. Then got to do it for the first time in 2019 and I’ve been back every year since. And honestly I can’t believe that I’ve now won it, it’s amazing.
“Wearing this yellow jersey is pretty good. Honestly, personally it’s awesome but I definitely couldn’t have done it without the team. I had the perfect ride today, I just looked after myself because we were always in the perfect position. Then I was able to capitalise on having an easy day and just put my head down and went to the line as hard as I could.
“Extremely happy and also extremely tired, you just can’t eat enough in a race like this, so much time on the bike. Just had to stay on top of the fuelling all day. I mean I had the perfect ride, I was just sitting in the wheels, we were just so well represented from the gun really. Sammy Jenner out there at the front, all I had to do was just sit there, me and Chappy just following all the moves. Yeah just had to go on my own at the end”
Saunders will race again tomorrow to defend his title in the Warrnambool KFC Criterium.
Chris Froome – (Israel Premier-Tech) Cycling legend
Froome, who was also riding for his charity Safari Simbaz, was amazed at the race, which fitted in with a huge training block he is doing in Australia ahead of his 2023 European campaign.
“Yeah I came here looking for a hard training ride and that’s exactly what I got. Finished completely cross eyed over the finish line there….what a day that was an amazing race, an amazing event, very well organised, great racing.
“Didn’t really expect such a big group to go earlier on, everyone told me to be conservative in the first 100, 150k’s but it seems as if that was race over in the first 20. A group of 20 guys went up the road with all the teams represented so behind there wasn’t really much of a chase going on.
“Once we got up to the coast after about 200k’s I think 6 of us got off the front of the peloton and started bridging that gap. Two of us then broke clear of that but we never made it back to the front but big day out and big chase to get there. Congrats to whoever came over the line first, I didn’t actually get to see that far ahead but yeah that was a brutal but great event.”
“The race organisation has very generously supported the Safari Simbaz cycling project out in Kenya, which is where I grew up. It’s a project helping kids from difficult backgrounds get into cycling and basically have a second chance at life through the bike and the opportunities that the bike will allow them. The project is in its very early stages and we are hoping to be able to build great things for them. Amazing for the support and hopefully we are going to make something special out of it.”