Aaron Donnelly’s second place in the 262 kilometre Melbourne to Warrnambool was one hell of a result. The 21-year-old finished behind winner Floris Goesinnen (Drapac), the pair escaping in a two-man breakaway with around 40km left to race.
Riding for the composite team Aussie Farmers Direct, Donnelly had done the majority of the work with the pair remarkably hanging on despite a fast-finishing chase group.
"About 15km to go we were given two minutes and then I was pretty confident we could stay away but then it came back to 1:30 really quickly so I was starting to get a bit nervous," he told Cyclingnews. "At three or four kilometres to go I knew we had it."
The Melbourne to Warrnambool was Donnelly’s first race over 200 kilometres, but for a number of reasons, he was lucky to see his debut through.
"I was tangled in a crash around 10km in so I was off the back in a group of about 30 riders and we chased for about 80kms," he explained. "I came pretty close to getting off the bike but we finally caught the bunch and I just tried to rest and recover as much as I could and then with about 50km to go all the attacks started happening."
Given his lack of experience in this level of racing, Donnelly didn’t have that much to go off other than other people’s belief in him. He had finished in the lead bunch at last month’s Goulburn to Sydney and won the sprint classification and also finished third overall at the Tour of Murray River.
"A lot of people told me that this race would suit me," Donnelly revealed. "I didn’t have the best preparation coming in but I still had a bit of confidence because I had people telling me it should suit me."
Illness had robbed him of the chance to compete at the Tour of Tasmania with his recovery slow. Realising his name was not on the start list for the Melbourne to Warrnambool earlier in the week, his Jayco - HoneyShotz boss Ned Draydon then secured him a late entry and paid his race fee with the team formally announcing its collapse on Wednesday. The AIS looked after his travel arrangements and Trent Wilson’s GPM - Wilson racing then allowed Donnelly to stay with him team. Earlier in the year when he was racing for Jayco-AIS in Europe, Donnelly fell down some stairs at the team’s Italian base breaking his wrist, ending his European racing season.
Such an amazing chain of events, and perhaps some healthy exhaustion, left Donnelly struggling to find the words to explain the enormity of what he’d achieved on Saturday.
"I'm speechless... Ecstatic!"
Donnelly will use the next few days to recover, missing Sunday’s Shipwreck Coast Classic before hopefully securing a visa this week to race at the Tour of Hainan with the national team.