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Tears, relief, and a couple of key mechanicals

Grace Brown won her fourth Aussie ITT title and Luke Plapp won his second ... but not without difficulty.

Rivals Grace Brown (right) and Brodie Chapman (left) embrace after finishing 1-2 in the Nationals ITT.

Matt de Neef
by Matt de Neef 04.01.2024 Photography by
Matt de Neef
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In a tree-lined courtyard in Ballarat’s Federation University, contrasting emotions are playing out. Just past the finish line of the Australian Nationals time trial, rivals Brodie Chapman (Lidl-Trek) and Grace Brown (FDJ-Suez) are wrapped in a strong embrace. “Finishing second to you feels like winning!” Chapman tells a beaming Brown. “You kept me honest out there!” Brown replies, having won her fourth national title, less than seven seconds ahead of Chapman.

Maybe 30 metres away, Sarah Gigante (AG Insurance-Soudal) cuts a very different figure. With a large brick building towering over her, Gigante pulls to a stop alone, sobbing as she leans over her handlebars. For a few moments it’s just her and her anguish, and then her support crew arrives: mum Kerry, brother Scott, coach Dylan.

Gigante had really been hoping for a better start to 2024. After a series of setbacks and mishaps in recent years, a new year and a new team was a chance to reset. Instead, in her first race of the year, a mechanical mishap has ruined her day.

The problem emerged mere minutes before she was due to head down the start ramp. A quick check of her right shifter revealed a rear derailleur that wasn’t working. A fault with the electronic gearing perhaps, a loose wire somewhere along the way. In the frantic moments before her start time, the culprit couldn’t be found.

Visibly shaken, Gigante took to the start ramp regardless, and set off. But moments later she was back, talking to commissaires who granted her a restart. One commissaire told Escape that Gigante had been given a new start time as her mechanical mishap happened inside the first 100 metres. Head commissaire Karen O’Callaghan said that was an outdated rule and that Gigante was lucky to be given a restart, and only because the issue had happened before she set off.

Gigante’s crew frantically tried to fix the issue in time before the restart, but to no avail. Instead, Gigante took to the start on an old Canyon road bike – a remnant of her previous tenure with Movistar. And with that, her hopes of a third National TT title were gone. She’d finish the day in 11th, 2:58 behind Brown.

Gigante starting her time trial on her old road bike.

Half an hour after finishing, members of Gigante’s support crew still hadn’t found the cause of the issue. They did reveal that the issue had been with both derailleurs, not just the rear. 

For Brown, the win brings its own range of emotions. Joy, certainly, but relief too. Relief at coming to a race where you’re expected to win and managing to meet that expectation.

“It’s always nerve-wracking, coming and doing the time trial straight up [at the start of the year], not really knowing exactly where my form sits compared to everyone else,” Brown said later. “It’s the start of a big year. I’ve got some big goals. And yeah, we’re still building up towards that. So it’s nice to have this one behind me.”

That sense of relief is familiar to her fellow pre-race favourite and fellow gold medalist, Luke Plapp (Jayco AlUla). For him, the relief of winning a second National ITT title on Thursday wasn’t just about meeting expectations – it was the relief of overcoming a mechanical that threatened to ruin his ride.

“On the very top of the climb, on the first lap, I just went to change from the small ring back to the big ring and the chain just didn’t come up,” Plapp told reporters later. 

The exact same mechanical problem had happened a year earlier, in the exact same spot on the same course, albeit on a different bike. That time, a flustered Plapp got “overexcited” and restarted too eagerly on his replacement bike, finishing fourth on the day.

Today, after a brief moment of cursing – “how the fuck could this happen again?!” he said to himself – Plapp got on his spare bike and with sports director Mat Hayman in his ear, set about re-finding a rhythm. 

Across the finish line Plapp had no idea of his result – his transponder was on his old bike and his time had to be verified separately. As he waited, he sat calmly on the grass in the shade of the Federation Uni buildings, not far from where Gigante had mourned her own more-decisive mechanical an hour earlier. 

When the announcement of Plapp’s win came, he allowed himself a large exhale. Despite the bike change, he’d finished 32 seconds ahead of erstwhile leader and teammate Chris Harper and won his second elite Aussie ITT title, heading up a Jayco AlUla 1-2-3-4 in the process.

As Plapp stood up to make his way to the podium, his best mate (and now reunited teammate) Blake Quick was there, wrapping Plapp in a big hug, just as he was in 2021 when Plapp won his first elite title.

“It’s a big relief now,” Plapp told reporters. “We’ll celebrate tonight, put the feet up, and then and get ready for the roadie on Sunday.”


Elite & U23 Women’s results

Elite men’s results

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