The Australian Road Nationals are done and dusted for another year. If you haven’t seen our coverage from the event already, you can find it all at the link above.
Beyond the big stories that emerged from the weekend – Jayco AlUla’s dominance, the end of an era in Ballarat/ Buninyong, and so on – there were a bunch of other, smaller stories that deserve to be told.
The following is a collection of little tidbits that I felt were worth sharing after most of a week in Ballarat spent covering Road Nats. If you’ve got something you’d like to share, please do so in the comments below!
Besides the big names who were racing throughout the week, there were a few other sports stars in attendance at the Aussie Road Nats. For one: Tour de France Femmes stage winner Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig who was out at the elite men’s road race on Sunday, playing soigneur for her partner Miles Scotson.
And then there was Formula 1 star Valtteri Bottas. The motorsport champ / gravel racer wasn’t just there to support his partner Tiff Cromwell in the elite women’s road race – he was also there to race the Nationals Gran Fondo on the Saturday evening. The Finnish star finished 21st in the 35-39-year-old men’s category …
which is odd given he’s only 34. (Update: as pointed out by several people in the comments, this isn’t odd at all: participant age is taken at the end of the year the event was held. Thanks to those who clarified!)
Names to take note of
You can get a pretty good gauge of potential future stars by looking at the results of the U19 and U23 races held throughout the week. But among those impressive up-and-comers, two riders stood out to me.
At just 17, Lauren Bates (ARA-Skip Capital) is Australia’s new U19 time trial and road race champion. After finishing second in the ITT last year, and fourth in the road race, Bates stepped up in a big way this time around. She won the TT by 40 seconds, then went on to win the road race solo by nearly two minutes.
That’s after dealing with a knee injury for much of last year, and after a back injury from a crash at Junior Track Worlds, plus a bout of COVID that left her with just a couple weeks to prepare for Road Nats.
Then there’s Jackson Medway (BridgeLane). Just 19, Medway comes from a triathlon and cross-country running background and has only really been cycling seriously for a couple years now. And yet this week he won the U23 men’s TT title (beating a pretty stacked field), finished seventh in the road race, and was particularly impressive in the criterium, finishing fourth.
If his trajectory thus far is anything to go by, Medway could go a long way in the sport. More immediately, he’s due to line up for the Australian national team at Tour Down Under next week.
Champagne tips with Pat Shaw
Tour of Tasmania winner Matt Greenwood rode to an impressive second place in the U23 men’s road race, after spending a bunch of time up the road on his own. As he waited backstage to receive his silver medal, Greenwood – who’s just 20 – turned to team manager (and former pro) Pat Shaw and asked for some help. He wasn’t sure how to open and spray the bottle of champagne he’d be getting on stage.
Shaw wasted no time in giving his young rider some tips – tear off the outer later, give it a shake, give the cork a little twist if it doesn’t come out itself. It was a lovely, wholesome moment between rider and mentor.
Greenwood ended up doing an admirable job up on stage, even if his teammates teased him for not spraying the champagne around more. Methinks Greenwood will get plenty of time to practise in the years ahead.
The Olympics is in sharp focus this year
The fact it’s an Olympic year is certainly not lost on the country’s best riders. Now-four-time-Aussie-ITT-champ Grace Brown is obviously targeting the Olympics TT. After taking two Worlds silver medals, she’s very much aiming for the gold medal in Paris.
Brodie Chapman has her eye on Paris too. “I want to go to the Olympics, for the time trial, and the road race,” she said after finishing second to Brown. “This was a part of that journey.”
Australia has two of the 35 spots in the women’s Olympic ITT – one for finishing inside the top 25 in the national rankings last year, and an additional spot courtesy of Grace Brown finishing inside the top 10 at last year’s Worlds. Brown will surely get the first Olympic spot, but who gets the second? Chapman, who finished second at Nationals? Or Georgie Howe, who was third at Nationals but rode Worlds last year? One to keep an eye on.
The Aussie men have two spots too, courtesy of the same qualification rules (Rohan Dennis finished top 10 in Glasgow). Luke Plapp should get the first spot – he said Sunday that the Giro d’Italia and the Olympics are his big goals for 2024 – but who gets the second? Chris Harper, who was second in the ITT and road race this week? The experienced Luke Durbridge (who wasn’t at Road Nats)? Someone else?
Ugly scenes in Buninyong
The elite men’s road race was about to start on Sunday afternoon and previous champions Miles Scotson and Luke Plapp had been called up to the startline. At that moment, a bunch of anti-Israel/pro-Palestine protestors got onto the course, holding up signs, including one directed at Israel-Premier Tech rider Simon Clarke.
At that moment, local rider Mordecai Yoel (previously known as Matt Sherwin) rolled up beside Plapp and Scotson and starting yelling pro-Israel slogans in the protestors’ faces. The whole thing was pretty ugly.
Once the protestors had been manhandled off course, Yoel stayed there, standing beside the two champions, fuming, ignoring suggestions from others that maybe he should return to the bunch where he belonged.
It turned out to be an eventful day for Yoel. After dropping off the pace midway through the race, he was told by commissaires that his race was over (standard procedure on that circuit). He refused to comply, carrying on through the home straight while yelling more pro-Israel slogans.
Yoel was later fined and disqualified for refusing to stop, and for wearing a jersey with green and gold bands on his sleeves – an honour reserved for former nationals champions. Here’s what the commissaires report afterwards said:
“Rider 113 Mordecai Yoel. Rule 2.12.007 7.4 Rider refusing to quit the race after being eliminated by a Commissaire. Fine $200 and 50 UCI points and Disqualification. Including penalty for wearing Australian bands.”
Yoel was also one of four riders fined for neglecting to sign on. The penalty for that? A 200CHF fine and 5 UCI points.
It turns out this isn’t the first time Yoel has attracted the ire of commissaires in recent months. On stage 3 of the Tour of Tasmania in November, where he finished outside the time limit (35 minutes behind stage winner Boris Clark) Yoel was fined $100 for “Failure to follow the instructions of the Organisation/Commissaires”.
Not happy, Sam
Speaking of riders who weren’t impressed about not being allowed to finish Road Nats, Sam Welsford was visibly frustrated when his group was kicked off course late in Sunday’s race. Welsford had been very good early, fighting into a bunch of promising moves, but fell off the pace in the back half of the race.
After remonstrating with commissaires, Welsford continued the fight on Instagram later, commenting on a post from race director Scott McGrory.
A touching tribute to Mel Hoskins
The tragic passing of Mel Hoskins was a dark cloud over the entirety of Road Nats, but on Sunday morning, commentator Kate Bates delivered a lovely speech about Mel before the peloton and the gathered crowd observed a minute’s silence. The full text of Bates’ speech is below:
“Mel was a beacon of strength, determination and bravery. Her vibrant spirit and resilience inspired everyone around her. She brought a unique light-heartedness to our lives, making our burdens feel a little lighter, and at times, literally dancing through the clouds to get to sunshine.
“Mel was a mother, a daughter, a sister, a very-much-loved friend, and beyond this she was an Olympian, a world-beater, and one of the best athletes Australian cycling has and will ever see. Her legacy will not fade as her name remains etched in our record books.
“As we stand here on the cusp of this race, let us take a moment of silence to remember Mel. Let her unyielding spirit inspire us to push forward, to strive for excellence, and to cherish every moment of this race and of our lives. Please join me in a minute of silence to honour the unforgettable Mel Hoskins.”
Road Nats broadcaster SBS also prepared this fitting tribute:
Road Nats to Perth? Plappy reckons so
Let’s wrap this up with something a little more light-hearted.
It’s 6:30pm on Sunday evening and the remaining members of the written press are tapping away on their laptops in the Buninyong Town Hall. Luke Plapp walks into the hall, having just been to anti-doping next door. Speaking to the AusCycling media crew, Plapp asks “When are you guys announcing Perth?” Perth being the heavily rumoured next home of Road Nats, as first reported by Escape in November.
There’s a brief uncomfortable silence, after which one staffer responds “we’ll be announcing the next destination of Road Nats very soon.”
Before this week I would have said Perth was the likely destination, but now I’d say it’s very likely. But who really knows. Apparently the official announcement will come sometime in the next week, once everything is sorted out with the relevant governments.
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