Fergus Browning (Trinity Racing) was probably hoping for a smoother run-in to the Australian Road Nationals.
A day before lining up in Saturday’s U23 men’s race, the 20-year-old was out for one final ride in West Melbourne when a car cut him off, leaving him “nowhere to go”. The driver didn’t stop.
“I just went into the back of the car and into the gutter,” he told reporters on Saturday evening, after not just starting the road race, but winning it. “Riding in Melbourne is a bit sketchy, but that’s why I like to be in Bright, [to] get away from the traffic.”
Browning hurt his left shoulder in the crash – a shoulder he’s injured several times in the past year or so – and took a bunch of skin off. A visit to the physiotherapist was required to strap his shoulder in preparation for Saturday’s race.
His bike was even worse for wear. He snapped his handlebars and bent his rear derailleur hanger – not ideal the day before a target race.
Browning’s father Tony quickly helped source some replacement parts, and with some help from a mechanic mate, possible disaster was averted.
“Huge thanks to Alex Smyth – he sorted me out and I was all good to go,” Browning said. “It all worked out in the end and it could have been a lot worse.”
When it came to Saturday’s 12-lap race around Buninyong, Browning found he wasn’t too hampered by his injuries. “It was my left shoulder so getting bottles was a bit interesting, but it was fine,” he said.
With around four laps to go, Browning made his way across to a chase group that coalesced behind four leaders further up the road: BridgeLane pair Jackson Medway and Matt Greenwood, ARA-Skip Capital’s Tyler Tomkinson, and Matt Fox.
“It wasn’t my original plan to go with four to go,” Browning said of his effort to get into that chase group. “I wanted to wait a bit longer. But I think when I found out BridgeLane had a few strong guys, I was a bit scared. I knew I had good legs so I went across with a few strong guys and managed to have good legs in the last lap.”
It was in that last lap that Browning made his next decisive move. By that point, Tour of Tasmania winner Greenwood was up the road on his own and seemingly riding away to victory. But on the final ascent of Mt. Buninyong Browning powered away from the chase alone, joining Greenwood partway up the climb.
“Matt was in sight going up the climb every time [and] I knew that 30-40 seconds is pretty easy to bridge on that climb,” Browning said. “And that last climb I just knew what I can do for five minutes and just tried to go all out to the top and sort of recovered over the back [of the course].”
Browning tried on multiple occasions to drop Greenwood, but the latter held on despite having spent several laps on his own out front. In the end the pair remained together all the way back into Buninyong for a two-up sprint. Browning won it with ease, joining the likes of Simon Gerrans, Simon Clarke, and Caleb Ewan on the U23 road race honour roll.
“It’s just crazy,” Browning said. “To be able to maybe represent this [green and gold jersey] in Europe and some of the U23 races coming up – I never thought I’d ever be able to do that. To be on the list of people that have won this race before this, it’s just crazy.
“I knew it was the last year in Buninyong for a while. And I knew this course really suited me. Yeah, I’m just stoked to pull it off.”
Not least considering he very nearly didn’t make it to the startline.
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