Luke Plapp takes Aussie Road Nats three-peat in Jayco podium sweep

How to win a national title: with a 100 km, two-up time trial.

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 07.01.2024 Photography by
Con Chronis
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At the Australian Road Nationals, the elite men’s road race is normally a tight, tense affair that’s only decided in a flurry of activity in the final laps. Sunday’s 2024 edition was not that.

Sunday’s race was a display of pure dominance from Jayco AlUla who didn’t just deliver Luke Plapp to his third straight victory, they also swept the podium in commanding fashion.

The race started aggressively, with Jayco AlUla ever-present in a lead group that swelled, burst, and reformed many times in the opening laps. But after all that exciting preliminary action, the winning move came with 103 km still to race in the 186 km event. Chris Harper and Luke Plapp got together out front and that was that.

“I was constantly attacking all day and then I got away with Sam Welsford,” Harper said of his move from the lead group. “Then Plappy came across … and set a really hard tempo and once it was me and him it was just pretty simple: chop till the finish.”

For the next two and half hours, through intermittent rain, the pair lapped their way around the Mt. Buninyong circuit with apparent ease, building a comfortable lead, sharing turns on the front, regularly sharing smiles with fans and one other as the kilometres ticked by.

In contrast to the dynamic women’s race of a few hours earlier, it didn’t make for the most compelling conclusion to the final event in Road Nats’ last year in Buninyong. In fact, the most exciting part of the last few hours was the question of how Jayco AlUla would decide the winner.

In the end there was no intra-team sprint, no battle to see who was strongest. Plapp and Harper simply crossed the line together, both with arms aloft, Plapp just ahead.

“Harps is amazing,” Plapp said. “He told me very early on that it’s mine and I can’t thank him enough. He’s such a class act and such a gentleman.”

Having come close to victory before – third in 2018, second in 2019 – Harper could be forgiven for being frustrated by another near miss. But at least publicly, he gave the impression of the conssumate team man.

“Plappy’s obviously going for three in a row which is pretty special,” Harper said. “I was quite happy to see him win but to be honest as well he was probably riding stronger anyway. The last couple of laps I was hurting a bit up the climb and he was still riding strong so yeah, he definitely deserved it.

“The important thing today was to bring the jersey back to the team so as long as one of us was in the jersey, that’s all that matters.”

Often in circumstances like this, you’ll hear riders say that they weren’t sure of the victory until the final moments. Not so on this occasion. Harper and Plapp knew from a long way out they’d be hard to beat.

“When it was just Plappy and I, I said ‘There’s 100 k to go but I don’t think there’s too many guys pulling through as hard as us two so let’s just be patient, do our thing,’” Harper said.

Plapp was even more direct when asked when he knew he and Harper would be taking gold and silver.

“To be honest, mate, as soon as I knew it was me and Chris up there,” he said. “We got first and second in the TT. I don’t think there was probably going to be anyone that could have chased us down.”

Such was the pair’s dominance that, even after riding the final kilometre at pedestrian pace, side by side, Plapp and Harper still finished more than six minutes ahead of the next group on the road. And that group was led in by their teammate Kell O’Brien ahead of Elliot Schultz (BridgeLane) and Chris Hamilton (DSM-Firmenich PostNL) – O’Brien’s second podium finish in this race.

Jayco AlUla’s podium sweep is the first in any elite Nationals road race in the team’s history. It comes at the end of a formidable week for the GreenEdge setup.

After missing gold in the elite women’s ITT (won by Grace Brown), Jayco AlUla won at least a gold medal in all of the remaining elite races. They went 1-2-3-4 in the elite men’s TT (with Plapp and Harper taking gold and silver there too); they went 1-2-3 in the women’s criterium (won by Ruby Roseman-Gannon); they won the men’s criterium (Caleb Ewan), and they went 1-3 in the women’s road race as well (also won by Roseman-Gannon). 

“Yeah, it’s perfect,” Harper said of Jayco AlUla’s showing this week. “I mean, the women started it off perfectly this morning and obviously we wanted to follow up with that. We’ve got Tour Down Under next week, which is obviously a big focus for the team as well and everyone looks like they’re in good shape. So hopefully we can carry that momentum and have a good crack at winning Tour Down Under as well.”

For Plapp, meanwhile, his victory today puts him in rarefied air. He’s now one of just five Australian men to have won three Australian road titles (Hubert Opperman leads the way with four wins), and just the fourth Australian of any gender to have won three titles in a row.

Plapp is still processing the signficance of that achievement.

“It’s all pretty surreal, mate,” he said. “It’s just an amazing way to start with this team. It’s been great fun the last week. 

“I’m really gonna miss this place. It’s really special. I love this circuit.”


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