Cameron Meyer takes back-to-back Aussie titles in incredible sprint finish

by Matt de Neef

photography by Con Chronis


BUNINYONG, Australia (CT) – With one lap to go, Cameron Meyer (BikeExchange) looked to be done. He’d been dropped on the penultimate ascent of Mt. Buninyong and his chances of taking back-to-back Australian road titles were in tatters.

Half an hour later he was raising his arms in joy and hugging his teammates having taken a tight victory in another memorable edition of the men’s Nationals road race.

“I drew on every bit of 13 years of experience to pull that off,” a jubilant Meyer said. “Every lap I thought I was in trouble, like ‘this isn’t going to happen’. Somehow the best teammate you can have, Luke Durbridge, he popped up there right at the end, saved me, brought me to the line and then I just pulled on the experience that I had in the finish there. And I think that’s what won it for me.”

The 16-lap race around the Mt. Buninyong circuit came down to a sprint from seven riders but it wasn’t until the last minute that such an outcome looked possible. There’d been a bevy of attacks in the last couple hours of racing, wih the lead changing hands multiple times. But when Durbridge dragged Meyer and a handful of others back to the front with 5 km to go, a sprint was suddenly on the cards.

Kell O’Brien (Inform TMX Make) attacked at 1.9 km to go on the downhill run into Buninyong, but was quickly caught. James Whelan (EF Education First-Nippo) came to the front from nowhere and looked to be riding clear, but he too was caught. And in the sprint O’Brien launched early and looked to be cruising to a gold medal to add his time trial bronze from Wednesday.

But the wily Meyer had other ideas. He waited for his moment and pounced at exactly the right time.

“When you’ve had a hard race like that, you don’t have much left,” Meyer said. “You’ve literally probably got 50 to 100 metres left in the legs before they start cramping. You could see everyone sitting down just hoping the line would come. Young Kell went, Nick White went and that’s who I had to get to go first, run at them, try and get to the line [at] the last second and win by just the smallest of margins.

“I’ve done that sprint a fair few times, lost it, and I just got the timing right and somehow pulled off a miracle today.”

After being in the early break, and after numerous attacks, O’Brien held on for second, further evidence of his immense talent and yet another medal in a dominant week for Inform TMX Make. Mountain biker turned roadie Scott Bowden snagged an impressive third place after being in all the right moves in the closing stages of the race. That result comes after a tough 12 months of illness and injury for Bowden who was recently dropped by Team BridgeLane.

“This time last year I was sleeping 12 to 16 hours a day with glandular fever so I missed out on it [Nationals],” the Tasmanian said. “And then I had a hip injury and then a knee injury as well. I wasn’t even going to come here [but] I’d been training quite a lot with Richie Porte back home in Tassie. And I got the impression I was going alright.

“I haven’t done a bike race for over 12 months, so I just wanted to come over and give it a crack. Yeah, [I’m] glad that I did.”

Image: Con Chronis

Earlier in the day it took six laps of racing before a solid breakaway came together. Some 16 riders led affairs, including O’Brien and three from BikeExchange — Damien Howson, newly crowned criterium champion Kaden Groves and former road race champion Alex Edmondson. But despite having half their team up the road, Australia’s only WorldTour outfit wasn’t able to control the race.

Attacks started in the breakaway and when the dust settled on lap 8, two riders were leading the race: track star Sam Welsford and last year’s National Road Series winner Brendan Johnston. The pair led the race for several laps but, behind, their fellow breakaway companions and many in the peloton were getting restless.

O’Brien went on the attack with Edmondson from the break. But the most dangerous move came from newly crowned ITT champion Luke Plapp (Inform TMX Make) who surged away from the peloton on the 11th time up Mt. Buninyong and set off towards the front of the race.

By the 12th time up the climb Plapp was leading the race solo with 58 km of racing still to go. BikeExchange committed to the chase with Howson, Durbridge and Hamilton giving it their all to reel in Plapp, who built a lead that peaked at more than two minutes on lap 13 of 16.

The 20-year-old eventually faded as Chris Harper (Jumbo-Visma) and O’Brien struck out with Meyer in tow. The attacks came thick and fast with small groups forming and splitting apart with dizzying regularity.

By the penultimate ascent of Mt. Buninyong, Plapp was still up the road but Harper and O’Brien were closing in with Seb Berwick (Israel Start-Up Nation) for company. Meanwhile, Meyer was sliding off the back of the group behind, his day seemingly done.

“I was just hoping they’d slow down up front because I didn’t have much left in the tank,” Meyer said of that moment. “We’d had a hard race. We thought we’d set it up well, we [BikeExchange] had three in the front [in the early break]. It didn’t work out. And then the boys were riding for me. You saw them trying to bring Plapp back and it was like ‘I don’t even know if Plapp’s going to come back. Let’s hope that the first time riding 16 laps is going to grab him.’ It did.

“Somehow it came back, [we] kept fighting over the climbs. It was just a never-say-die attitude, I just had to keep plugging away at it. This race just turns up some special stories every year and this is one of them.”

At the start of the final lap, Meyer was 42 seconds behind Harper and O’Brien, then leaders of the race. In between were Plapp and Berwick. The last lap, like those before it, played host to a series of attacks. It was hard to keep track of who was where. Predicting a winner was near impossible.

Despite his exertions earlier in the race, Durbridge somehow found the strength to close down several dangerous moves for Meyer in the closing lap. Ultimately it was he who helped Meyer bridge across to the front of the race. 

“If you could pick one teammate every time here …” Meyer said of Durbridge. “We were a bit scared earlier in the week. We thought, ‘sugar, is he going to get stuck in Perth?’ [due to the COVID lockdown] And for me I’m going ‘That is like 50% of our team lost because he is so strong.’ He can just go from start to finish. And when you need that extra little boost, he’s there to get the morale there.

“He came to me at four [laps] to go and he said ‘I’m in for you’ … you’ve got to buckle your seatbelt then because you know he’s going to go deep.”

At 5 km to go the front group was eight strong: Kell O’Brien, Mark O’Brien (Inform TMX Make), Bowden, Durbridge, Meyer, Harper, Nick White (BridgeLane) and Tim Roe. Roe attacked through the Federation University campus with 2.9 km to go but crashed on a right-hander, ultimately ending his chances of victory.

The attacks continued all the way onto the finishing straight where Meyer’s hard-won experience helped the 33-year-old to another year in the green and gold jersey.

“I didn’t get to race in it as much as I would have liked last year,” Meyer said. “I’ve got fingers crossed the pandemic goes away a little bit so I can get a few more races in [it].”

Follow the link for full results from the elite men’s race.

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