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I remember racing the 2009 National Road Titles in Buninyong. It was the who’s who of Australian cycling with a lineup of of WorldTour riders including Mick Rogers, Mark Renshaw, Richie Porte, Adam Hansen, Matty Lloyd, Alan Davis, Baden Cooke and everyone else. It may as well been the entire rumoured GreenEDGE roster.
I recall 12 laps into the 16 lap course when we got to the business end of the race and the Rapha-Condor guys went to the front and blew the field to smithereens. I didn’t hold on for much longer and pulled-out at the finish line to see the end of the race.
I’ll never forget watching an relatively unknown Porsche-Drapac rider named Peter McDonald outfox and out-sprint two seasoned professionals who were to be working together – Mick Rogers and Adam Hansen (Columbia-Highroad). That was not how the script was supposed to go.
I cannot overstate how massive of a victory that was for Peter. He had only raced a bike for five years prior and his win against a world-class field like that showed immense talent and potential. This wasn’t just any race. It was the highly coveted National Title which can earn WorldTour riders an added bonus of ~$25K to their contract.
Offers from European professional teams didn’t come knocking on his door however. Peter McDonald is one of the many talented bike racers who simply had some back luck and didn’t have the right opportunities come his way.
Peter began his cycling career late at 24yrs old by doing bike couriering just for something different to to. He was a primary school teacher before that and his break was meant to be a year out of “real work” to have fun. Towards the end of the year he started going down to the club and racing the crits on the weekend. Starting off in D grade he quickly worked his way up to A grade in about 6 months. Towards the end of that year he was approached by FRF Courier team to fill-in and started in the Tour of Murray “which was a bit of an eye opener”, he said.
He wasn’t really making an impact on the race and ended up punctured during one of the more difficult stages. He managed to chase back on by himself and caught the attention of Domenic Caravello, who ran a team in Sydney called “Caravello”. Domenic took notice in his determination and asked if Peter would like to race the 228km Grafton-Inverell Classic with his team. So he went along with the flow and casually said “oh yea..sure, why not”. And he won. “It was a big surprise me and everyone else” he humbly claims.
He raced the 2004 season with FRF-Caravello full-time (a now combined Continental registered team) where he got some experience and a few successes in his overseas races.
Peter quickly got the attention of Porsche-Drapac who had helped Darren Lapthorne with his 2007 National Road Title. With them he was able to get a good amount of experience racing in Asia and in Europe with the Belgium kermesses and French Tours. He spent the first month there toughing it out struggling to finish the races. Eventually he began to find his way and was finishing top 10 in many of the races. Placing second in a pro kermesse was the highlight of his European racing campaign.
At the end of the 2008 season Peter came back to Australia and raced the Herald Sun Tour. Peter was going quite well at the time and had gained a lot of confidence from the European racing. During the Sun Tour Peter told the Drapac directeur sportif that he thought he could win nationals. The course just outside of Ballarat suited him perfectly and he’d performed well there before.
After the Sun Tour Peter didn’t do as much as unpack his bike. A couple months later he went to a small race in Japan and when he took his bike out of his bag he still had the Sun Tour numbers and bidons on it. He literally hadn’t touched it.
That gave Peter the rest and the kick that he needed. He trained that summer harder than he’d ever trained to prepare for nationals. He worked with his coach named Dan Healy (now working with the NZ Academy of Sport) doing a lot of specific training for the Buninyong national course.
Peter did a training camp in Bright with his Porsche-Drapac teammates which lead into the Tour of Bright. I remember racing against him that year as well. He won 2 stages and won the overall tour without trying too hard. He was “floating” up Mt Hotham while I was barely hanging on.
The National Championships
Come January 11, 2009 and Peter was in excellent form. It was a stacked field for the National Championships with not only Australia’s best riders, but some of the best riders in the world. Peter said, “I knew before I went there that I was the champ. I had good form. It was a surprise to everyone, but I knew I was in with a shot before I started – which I didn’t want to tell anyone of course. I had finished in previous years in the top 10, so I knew I had it in me”.
The nature of the Bunninyong course always makes it a race of attrition. Half-way through the second last lap Mick Rogers attacked the bunch and broke away by himself. Peter played it cool and rode with the group (or what was left of it). He looked around at the other guys left such as Matt Wilson, Simon Clarke, Richie Porte, etc. He looked at them and could tell none of them had that much left in the tank. Peter just waited until the climb began on the final lap and then made his move to bridge to Rogers. He made it across and both of them worked together for that entire lap. Peter admits that he did less work than Rogers, mindful that he is three time world time trial champion. A David and Goliath match-up if I’ve ever seen one.
Coming down to 2km remaining Hansen bridged to McDonald and Rogers and immediately attacked. It was up to McDonald to chase. Once he caught Hansen coming around the corner into the finishing stretch Rogers immediately counter-attacked. Peter thought, “that’s it, there’s no way I’ll get back to him”, but surprised himself and managed to reel Rogers in while dragging Hansen along with him. McDonald took a few deep breaths and hit Hansen and Rogers in the final couple hundred meters. He held both of them off and crossed the line as the 2009 Australian National Road Champion.
When I asked Peter about what was going through is head with being isolated with two of the strongest riders in the world on the same team in the biggest finish of his life, he said, “For me, I had nothing to lose. They were in the position of strength and I’m meant to get beaten in this situation. When Hansen attacked at the end I obviously had to chase or he would have just ridden away with it – Rogers wasn’t gonna help me. An so it was just a matter of putting my head down and chasing him back. When Rogers countered I just thought I’ll give whatever I got left to the line. That was enough”.
Had A Deal Been Made?
In hindsight Peter said, “the only thing that Rogers and Hansen might have messed up on (which is hard in the heat of the moment) is that Hansen perhaps shouldn’t have bridged. It confused things when he got there. Once he got there they really should have done more to get ride of me. The way it worked out it was probably quite embarrasing for them.”
I’ve heard through the grapevine that Peter was offered $10k from Rogers to let him ride away with the win. When I asked Peter about this he confessed “Yeah, that is true. Maybe there’s two sides of the story, but he wanted to buy it from me to ride away and win on his own (halfway through the lap when I caught him). I kept saying to him, ‘you’re not riding away because that’s not a deal…because your teammate is coming across to us’. Whatever deal there was, which I don’t believe there was one, all bets were off as soon as Hansen got there. There was no deal with him [Hansen] and he [Hansen] was trying to win. When Hansen went past he wasn’t looking back trying to help Rogers. That’s when I said all bets are off and as far as I’m concerned, we’re racing.”
Representing the Jersey
Peter was loyal to his Porsche-Drapac team where he continued to race the 2009 season. He gave up a spot on the UniSA National Team at the Tour Down Under to race with his teammates at the Tour of Wellington (which he won) and continued to have a few good results that season.
Peter signed for V Australia (formerly FlyV) for the 2011 season. He intended on using this as a stepping stone to get into Pegasus but they needed someone to lead V Australia’s US team which was supposed to be Peter. After Pegasus fell apart V Australia still went ahead and raced, but it wasn’t looking so good at the time so Peter decided to put a hold to his racing career and cut his ambitions short. Fortunately Peter got to ride the Tour Down Under with team UniSA this year but another contract at that late stage never eventuated.
Where Is He Now?
Peter moved to Busselton, WA this year with his wife Lisa to be closer to her family. They’re proud parents to their new baby boy named Flynn. Peter also manages a new bike shop called Fat Duck Cycles and Espresso.”In a way it’s good because with the little fella it would be a tricking thing juggling bike racing and being away for part of the year. It’s been nice to be home this year even though I miss the racing”.
“I’m happy in Busselton but I would like to do a little more racing in the future. There are a few small teams in WA that I’ll talk to when things settle down and get back to normal after having a kid. I havne’t done any local racing in a while. I did the Pemberton Classic and it was quite funny how this guy in a Drapac kit I’d never seen before beat me!”
Peter also does some coaching on the side for a few athletes in Busselton and Sydney, but it’s not something he ever sees himself ever retiring on.
“Last year I didn’t have great results with Drapac. I kind of regret not persuing FlyV or another bigger team at the beginning of the year instead of staying with Drapac. It wasn’t a bad year while wearing the jersey but it could have been better. Unless you’re knocking on doors these big teams aren’t going to come looking for you.”