BUNINYONG, Australia (CT) – Cyrus Monk (Drapac EF p/b Cannondale) has been crowned Australian U23 road race champion after a superb solo victory in challenging conditions this morning.
The 21-year-old slipped off the front of a reduced peloton on lap 6 of the eight-lap race and made his way across to the two leaders on the road – Reece Tucknott and Macgregor Carter. Monk reached the front of the race on the penultimate lap, Carter was dropped, and then Monk went on his own on the final ascent of Mt. Buninyong.
The Victorian opened up a gap of roughly 40 seconds as he flew around the final lap, giving him enough time to celebrate when he arrived in the finishing straight. James Whelan (Inform-MAKE) crossed the line 26 seconds later to clinch second, just holding off Michael Potter (ACA-Ride Sunshine Coast) and Dylan Sunderland (Bennelong-SwissWellness) in a sprint.
“It’s pretty hard to believe at the moment,” Monk said post-race. “You sort of try and picture that every training ride for the last four months, so it’s pretty hard to believe that it’s actually happened. I’m sure it will sink in throughout the rest of the day, hopefully.”
Monk’s move hadn’t been planned — he’d been backing himself to win the sprint from a small group. But when the opportunity presented itself, he took it with both hands.
“I think two-and-a-half laps from the finish no one really wants to spend all their bikkies there so it’s often a time that you can sneak off the front,” he said. “Once I was there I wasn’t happy to be out there but I just thought ‘Now I’m out here I’ve got to try and make it stick — I can’t turn back now.’
“So I threw all the eggs in that basket and luckily I was able to hold them off.”
Extreme temperatures and the threat of bushfires saw the race moved forward and shortened by four laps (from 139.2km to 92.8km). Monk, who rode with WorldTour team Cannondale-Drapac late last year as a stagiaire, had been hoping to race the full distance, to make the most of his recent experience in long, hard races.
“I was probably the least happy of the whole peloton, initially,” Monk said. “I was pretty furious and trying to get my managers to complain to Cycling Australia and even this morning I was asking if they could change it because I really wanted the longer distance to wear the riders down.
“Luckily a few other teams took it up and helped to make it hard. I was very happy that my teammates, Liam Magennis and Patty Burt, just did everything they could to try and make it hard as well.”
The early running was made by a three-rider group — Tucknott, Carter and Ashley Mackay (ACA-Ride Sunshine Coast) — that got off the front on lap 1 and built a lead that peaked at roughly 1:30. Mackay was dropped on lap 4 while, back in the main field, the tough conditions and fast pace saw the peloton thin down each lap.
Monk, though, handled the heat well, perhaps the result of three sauna sessions a week for the past four weeks as part of his preparation. He’s hoping that his win today will help on his way to achieving two big goals.
“I’m really hoping for a UniSA [national team] start at Tour Down Under,” Monk said. “So I’d imagine that ride [today] usually is enough to get a spot in that so I’d feel pretty stiff if I missed out on a spot. But I’ll have to wait and see with that one.
“And then hopefully a full time Cannondale contract as well. They were pretty happy with how I rode for them last year but they wanted to see a few more results. So I think I’ve started the year pretty well in terms of that.”
With Cannondale-Drapac and Drapac-Pat’s Veg last year, Monk had the chance to take part in a handful of one-day races in Europe and beyond. It’s these events that he sees himself aiming towards in the years to come.
“I definitely like that kind of racing just because it’s always hard and selective,” he said. “I always end up doing better in the chaotic races like this race always is, and I found myself doing better in Belgian one-day races. So yeah, I think that’s something I would like to target.
“But obviously you just have to have a huge engine to be doing that kind of stuff once you get to Europe so I’ve got a lot of work to do before I can take it to the WorldTour level. But it’s definitely good signs winning a race like that.”
And if Monk’s dreams of making it to the WorldTour don’t come to fruition, he’s got a solid Plan B.
“Obviously our team’s all about the holistic development and yeah a lot of people just think ‘Ah, that’s bullshit’ but if you look at all the riders they’re all developing and they’re all switched on,” said Monk, who’s in the final year of a physiology degree at Melbourne University. “If they’re throwing away the bike it’s because they’ve got a job set up to walk in to straight after.
“Coming into this I know if it doesn’t work out and I’ve got it wrong on the bike then I’ve got the degree to fall back on. It just makes it so much more enjoyable.”
Follow the link for full results from the U23 men’s road race.