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BUNINYONG, Australia (CT) – Alex Edmondson (Mitchelton-Scott) will wear the green and gold bands of Australian road race champion for the next 12 months after taking a thrilling victory in Buninyong today.
The three-time track world champion was part of a small breakaway that formed on lap 14 of the 16-lap race; a breakaway that was thinned down to just he and Chris Harper (Bennelong-SwissWellness) by the penultimate, 11.6km lap.
On the final run-in to the line, the pair looked set to be caught by an elite chase group that included the likes of Richie Porte (BMC), Nathan Haas (Katusha-Alpecin) and Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott). But as the bunch bore down from behind, Edmondson was far enough ahead to be able to celebrate emphatically.
Jay McCarthy (Bora-Hansgrohe) was next across the line, one second after Edmondson, after slipping clear of the chase group. Harper held on for an impressive third place.
“Absolutely speechless,” Edmondson said in his post-race interview. “It’s been an absolute dream of mine … I guess every cyclist growing up, you always want to be able to wear the green and gold.
“It’s a magical day that I’m not going to forget for a hell of a long time.”
While many expected Edmondson to bide his time in the bunch and be there for Caleb Ewan if the race ended in a sprint, Edmondson would end up playing a different role on the day.
“Halfway through I felt pretty good,” Edmondson said. “I was talking to Matty Hayman, who was the captain for today, and I said ‘Look, I feel good — what do I need to do?’ And he said ‘Look, if you can, just follow’.
“I saw my mate Chris Harper go and I know he’s in ripping shape, so as soon as I saw him go I was like ‘This is the wheel I need to get on.’”
That attack from Harper came on the 14th of 16 ascents of Mt. Buninyong at a time when Troy Herfoss was up the road solo, having attacked two laps earlier from the day’s main breakaway. Will Clarke (EF Education First-Drapac) had also been part of the early move but despite having been caught by the peloton a few moments earlier, he was able to rally and join forces with Harper and Edmondson as the pair darted off the front.
Herfoss was caught by the chasing trio just before the end of lap 14, and by the time the quartet crossed the finish line they were 1:20 up on the remants of the peloton.
The next time up the climb — the penultimate ascent — Clarke and Herfoss were dropped, leaving just Harper and Edmondson out front. For Edmondson it posed a quandary — should he power on with Harper and back himself in a sprint against his training partner and friend? Or should he wait for Ewan if the race was going to come back together anyway?
“The team wanted me to either leave him [Harper] and go solo, or they were going to work for Caleb so I was a bit second-guessing myself,” Edmondson said. “But I knew that if it came down to a sprint … that I’d be able to get him as I know that he’s not the best of all the sprinters. But I had to get there.
“It was a pretty challenging last couple of laps.”
Edmondson did manage to drop Harper on the penultimate ascent and get clear, but the pair would be reunited by the end of the lap.
Behind the two leaders, a group of elite favourites were attacking one another and Simon Clarke (EF Education First-Drapac) slipped away to join Will Clarke and Herfoss up the road. Luke Durbridge (Mitchelton-Scott) had been on the move when he slid out on a right-hand corner through Federation University, crashing heavily into a gutter. Initial reports suggest the West Australian suffered a broken collarbone in the incident.
At the start of the final lap Edmondson and Harper were 33 seconds ahead of the chasing group with Rhys Gillett solo at 47 seconds. A very reduced peloton was lurking dangerously at 1:07.
There were fireworks in the peloton on the final climb, with Richie Porte (BMC), Ben O’Connor (Dimensoion Data), Nathan Earle (Israel Cycling Academy) and Brendan Canty (EF Education First-Drapac) among those looking to tear the race apart. But all the while Caleb Ewan was able to hang on, giving Mitchelton-Scott the clear favourite if the race came back together for a sprint.
Just 16 seconds separated the leading duo from the peloton at the top of the final climb (the Clarke group having been caught) but it would be prove to be enough of a gap. The attacks continued from the favourites through the back half of the course but as the kilometres ticked away, Harper and Edmondson clung on to a slim advantage.
Porte gave it everything with a solo attack roughly 2.5km from the finish. Ahead of him, Edmondson and Harper started attacking each other inside the final 2km. But in the end the pair had just enough time up their sleeves, with Edmondson holding on as the group of favourites dashed up behind him.
For Edmondson, victory wasn’t assured until the very end.
“When we saw 40 seconds … with one lap to go I thought ‘This is going to be close’ and I saw on the video that Simon Clarke was chasing and I was like ‘Oh no, this is all over’,” Edmondson said. “But then we got through the uni and I could see they were pretty close so I knew it was going to be touch and go.
“It wasn’t till I kept looking over my shoulder with about 50 metres to go I knew ‘This is the moment.’
“As you could see I was pretty happy — I thought I was about to fall off my bike because I was throwing my hands that hard! I don’t get that many opportunities to do it and I’m just absolutely thrilled to be able to win here.”
Edmondson joined the pro ranks with the GreenEdge setup (now Mitchelton-Scott) in 2016 and since then has been balancing his road ambitions with his efforts on the track. He’s focused more on the road now but, by his own admission, it’s been a tough transition.
“It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster trying to move the progression from the track to the road,” said Edmondson, the winner of the 2015 U23 Tour of Flanders. “Of course I still want to target those one-day classics, which has always been a goal, but at the moment … every time I get the opportunity to ride with the team it’s about just putting the right foot forward and helping my teammates to the best of my ability.”
Edmondson’s usual job of riding in support of others made today’s victory all the sweeter.
“I seem to go to a lot more races that I just work for,” he said. “I think that’s why it’s making it even harder to sink in, that I was able to go for myself.”
How it unfolded
It took until lap 3 of the 16-lap race for a break to finally get clear, with six riders forging off the front: Dylan Newbery (Mobius-BridgeLane), Robert Power (Mitchelton-Scott), Will Clarke, Sean Lake (Bennelong-SwissWellness), Herfoss and Dave Edwards. Another four riders set off in pursuit, trying to make contact: former national champion Al Iacuone, Thomas Kaesler (Drapac EF), Peter Milostic and Tristan Ward (Bennelong-SwissWellness).
The peloton sat up, allowing the break to get out to six minutes as the chase group started to close in on the leaders. The chasers, minus Iacuone, made contact with the leaders on lap 6, and with Edwards dropped from the lead, eight riders were left out front to create the day’s main breakaway.
Several small groups set sail from the peloton over the coming laps in an attempt to bridge to the leaders, including one containing Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal), Theo Yates and Ollie Kent-Spark (both Drapac EF). But none would made contact with the front of the race.
BMC recruit — and two-time former champion — Simon Gerrans had come into the race as the big favourite, but when he hit the front of the bunch on the Mt. Buninyong climb halfway through the race, it was clear BMC had a different strategy in mind.
Gerrans’ work over the next few laps helped reduce the deficit to the leaders, and by the 12th ascent of Mt. Buninyong the lead group (thinned to seven after Milostic was dropped) was just 2:35 ahead. As BMC led the peloton over the climb, the Hansen chase group was finally reeled in.
A few minutes earlier, on the same climb, former superbike champion Herfoss had attacked from the break and quickly started to open a lead. He was 55 seconds clear of his former breakmates by the end of lap 12 and 3:05 ahead of the peloton.
The pace increased in the rapidly thinning peloton the next few times up the climb before Harper and Edmondson made their decisive move on lap 14.
The Australian summer of racing continues in Adelaide next week with the Santos Women’s Tour and the Santos Tour Down Under. Stay posted to CyclingTips and Ella CyclingTips for coverage from both races.