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BALLARAT, Australia (CT) – “F**k yes!” yelled Sam Welsford as he crossed the line, arms aloft, the rain pouring down around him. He’s a world champion and world record holder on the track, but winning the Australian criterium title clearly still meant a lot.
“This has been in the back of my mind, to try to win this race, and I came here last year and kind of missed the mark a bit,” Welsford said afterwards. “So for me to come here a year later and take the jersey? I’m over the moon.”
The elite men’s criterium was contested over 40 laps of the now-classic Sturt Street circuit in the heart of Ballarat. Rain came down throughout the race, making for treacherous conditions, particularly on the race’s final corner.
“It was extremely tough,” Welsford said. “It was so wet — I couldn’t even see 10 meters in front of me at some points. But it’s just about sticking to what you know and just trying to be forward and backing yourself for that tough, long sprint.”
A breakaway group of seven led for much of the race having formed halfway through proceedings. But with the gap never extending to more than 15 seconds, a bunch sprint always seemed the most likely outcome.
With nine laps to go Welsford and Kaden Groves (Mitchelton-Scott) tried to bridge across to the leaders, but the race was all back together with five laps to go. There was a late flurry from Tasman Nankervis (GPM-Stulz) and Liam White (Oliver’s Real Food Racing), both of whom had been part of the earlier move, but with 1.5 laps remaining, a heavily reduced peloton had reformed in readiness for the final sprint.
On the uphill drag to the line Welsford found some space and opened up a handy gap; enough to celebrate emphatically as he crossed the line. Groves crossed the line in second, while Nick White (BridgeLane) rounded out the podium.
Earlier in the evening Welsford’s fellow team pursuiter Kell O’Brien won the U23 men’s criterium title. O’Brien made his move from the peloton with eight laps remaining in the 30-lap race, and bridged across to a leading trio two laps later. O’Brien took out the soggy four-up sprint, beating Conor Leahy and Michael Rice.