Despite having been part of a day-long breakaway at the elite men's Australian road race national championships, former omnium world champion Michael Freiberg (Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) battled back to surprise leading duo Chris Harper (Team BridgeLane) and Cameron Meyer (Mitchelton-Scott) in the final kilometre to win the green-and-gold jersey in Buninyong, Victoria, on Sunday.
Both Freiberg and Harper has been part of a four-man move along with Meyer's Mitchelton teammates Luke Durbridge and defending champion Alex Edmondson early on in the 185.6km, 16-lap road race on an 11.6km circuit that included the short but sharp climb of Mount Buninyong.
When the quartet were joined by Meyer, Harper's BridgeLane teammate Jason Lea and Conor Murtagh (Oliver's Real Food Racing), Freiberg and Murtaghe – with no teammates – looked like the men most likely to miss out.
But with Durbridge and Edmondson eventually committing to teammate Meyer, and with Harper arguably the strongest rider of the day, committing himself to a number of attacks in the final couple of laps, Freiberg quietly went about trying to stay in contact with Meyer and Harper, who led the race over the climb for the final time.
On the run-in to the finish, Harper and Meyer's game of cat-and-mouse heading into the final couple of kilometres allowed Freiberg to battle back once more, and having made contact with just 800 metres to go, he hit them hard, sprinting through for victory as the others scrambled, unsuccessfully, to get onto his wheel.
"To be honest, not at all," Freiberg said at the finish when he was asked if he thought he might still be able to catch Meyer and Harper coming towards the end of the race.
"At first I was just trying to secure third, but then I thought, 'No way – this is not really happening,' when I caught them, and then managed to stay away. It's quite surreal.
"I was severely cramping on the climb on the last lap," he admitted, "but I came good and managed to chase over the top of climb.
"I thought, 'They're not going to let me come past them,' but I managed to hit them with speed, and I got a gap, and that was that."
How it unfolded
The four-man break of Freiberg, Harper, Durbridge and Edmondson escaped the clutches of the bunch early in the race, and were chased by a 30-strong group that spent most of the day between the leaders and the bunch.
There were plenty of early retirements as the distance and pace took its toll, including 2017 road race champion Miles Scotson (Groupama-FDJ), who crashed early on. The attritional nature of the race meant that there were only 25 finishers, with those calling it a day before the finish including Mat Hayman (Mitchelton-Scott), Lachlan Morton (EF Education First) and Lotto Soudal's Caleb Ewan, who had forgone his criterium title defence on Friday in favour of keeping his legs fresh for Sunday's road race.
With 10 laps to go, the leaders still had an almost two-minute lead over the chasing group, and they looked strong, working well together, and by seven laps to go, the main bunch were over five-and-a-half minutes behind the leaders, and looking as though they knew their day was over.
In between, the 30-rider group could make little inroads, and, at just over 50km to go, it began to splinter under pressure from Ben O'Connor, with the Dimension Data rider eager to push the pace.
It was at this point that former national time trial champion Meyer decided to leave the chasers behind, taking Lea and Murtagh with him for the ride, and they'd closed to 1:37 behind the leaders with 45km – four laps – to go, with the rest of the chasing group almost another minute behind.
Meyer worked well with his two companions, despite the fact that he had two Mitchelton teammates up ahead in Edmondson and Durbridge. The team must have fancied the odds of three riders versus four, and that's what happened with 37km to go when the two small groups combined to make it seven riders at the front of the race: Murtagh, Lea, Harper, Freiberg, Durbridge, Edmondson and Meyer.
Almost as soon as the juncture was made, Durbridge put in an attack, and Freiberg was unlucky enough to unship his chain. Although the eventual winner was forced to stop, he quickly managed to get it on and again, and received a push from his team mechanic who had pulled over to assist.
When Harper attacked a few kilometres later, inside three laps to go, it was Meyer who reacted, putting Murtagh and Lea in trouble.
Harper attacked again over the top of the climb, which was enough to this time drop Edmondson, leaving four riders at the head of the race, while the chasing group – by now well out of contention – was led by Team Sunweb's Jai Hindley, who would eventually finish in the top 10.
Harper again went on the attack on the climb of Mount Buninyong inside the final two laps, with Durbridge giving everything for Meyer, who managed to regain Harper's wheel at the top of the climb as Durbridge then fell away and Freiberg was left to take the climb at his own pace.
Harper and Meyer continued to take turns until 3km to go, with Freiberg seemingly out of contention, 20 seconds back. Harper dropped back to tighten his shoes and to let Meyer take the lead, who then asked Harper to come through, audibly telling him that "Freiberg will come back and beat us both" if they didn't work together.
And how right he proved to be, as unlikely as it really seemed: Harper pulled alongside Meyer, but neither would commit, with Freiberg rapidly approaching. He made contact with just 800 metres to go, gritted his teeth, and opened his sprint, hanging on to take a memorable victory from Harper – third last year – and a visibly upset Meyer.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Michael Freiberg (Aus) Pro Racing Sunshine Coast||4:44:48|
|2||Chris Harper (Aus) Team BridgeLane||0:00:01|
|3||Cameron Meyer (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott|
|4||Luke Durbridge (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||0:01:23|
|5||Dylan Sunderland (Aus) Team BridgeLane||0:03:24|
|6||Scott Bowden (Aus) Team BridgeLane|
|7||Mark O'Brien (Aus)|
|8||Lucas Hamilton (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott|
|9||Nicholas Schultz (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||0:03:29|
|10||Jai Hindley (Aus) Team Sunweb||0:04:16|
|11||Conor Murtagh (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing||0:04:36|
|12||Drew Morey (Aus) Terengganu Cycling Team||0:04:39|
|13||Jason Lea (Aus) Team BridgeLane||0:05:27|
|14||Reece Tucknott (Aus)|
|15||Brendan Johnston (Aus)||0:06:14|
|16||Michael Storer (Aus) Team Sunweb||0:06:55|
|17||Nathan Elliott (Aus) Inform TM Insight MAKE|
|18||Ben Hill (Aus) Ljubljana Gusto Santic||0:07:16|
|19||Cyrus Monk (Aus) EvoPro Racing|
|20||Adam Hansen (Aus) Lotto Soudal||0:07:19|
|21||James Whelan (Aus) EF Education First||0:07:40|
|22||Damien Howson (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||0:09:26|
|23||Liam White (Aus) Drapac Cannondale Holistic development team||0:09:30|
|24||Lionel Mawditt (Aus) Team BridgeLane||0:11:45|
|25||Alistair Donohoe (Aus) Pro Racing Sunshine Coast||0:12:42|
|DNF||Alexander Edmondson (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott|
|DNF||Callum Scotson (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott|
|DNF||Michael Hepburn (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott|
|DNF||Mathew Hayman (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott|
|DNF||Robert Stannard (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott|
|DNF||Chris Hamilton (Aus) Team Sunweb|
|DNF||Mitchell Docker (Aus) EF Education First|
|DNF||Lachlan Morton (Aus) EF Education First|
|DNF||Caleb Ewan (Aus) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Ayden Toovey (Aus) Team BridgeLane|
|DNF||Benjamin Van Dam (Aus) Team BridgeLane|
|DNF||Neil Van Der Ploeg (Aus) Team BridgeLane|
|DNF||Tristan Ward (Aus) Team BridgeLane|
|DNF||Toby Orchard (Aus) Pro Racing Sunshine Coast|
|DNF||Jonathon Noble (Aus) Pro Racing Sunshine Coast|
|DNF||Freddy Ovett (Aus) Pro Racing Sunshine Coast|
|DNF||Ashley Mackay (Aus) Pro Racing Sunshine Coast|
|DNF||Timothy Cameron (Aus) St. George Continental Cycling Team|
|DNF||Rowan Dever (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing|
|DNF||Angus Lyons (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing|
|DNF||Russell Gill (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing|
|DNF||Karl Michelin-Beard (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing|
|DNF||Clinton Edwards (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing|
|DNF||Jesse Featonby (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing|
|DNF||Patrick Burt (Aus) Drapac Cannondale Holistic development team|
|DNF||Thomas Kaesler (Aus) Drapac Cannondale Holistic development team|
|DNF||Oliver Martin (Aus) Drapac Cannondale Holistic development team|
|DNF||Theodore Yates (Aus) Drapac Cannondale Holistic development team|
|DNF||Thomas Coates (Aus) Futuro - Maxxis Pro Cycling presented by Velo Gita|
|DNF||Michael Bettany (Aus) Futuro - Maxxis Pro Cycling presented by Velo Gita|
|DNF||Dylan Newbery (Aus) Futuro - Maxxis Pro Cycling presented by Velo Gita|
|DNF||Tom Robinson (Aus) Futuro - Maxxis Pro Cycling presented by Velo Gita|
|DNF||Cameron Layton (Aus) Futuro - Maxxis Pro Cycling presented by Velo Gita|
|DNF||Dylan Lindsey (Aus) Subaru - Anchor Point Racing Team|
|DNF||Jordan Villani (Aus) Subaru - Anchor Point Racing Team|
|DNF||Nicholas Canterbury (Aus) Subaru - Anchor Point Racing Team|
|DNF||Nicholas Leonars (Aus) Subaru - Anchor Point Racing Team|
|DNF||Nick Locandro (Aus) Subaru - Anchor Point Racing Team|
|DNF||Alex Holden (Aus) Subaru - Anchor Point Racing Team|
|DNF||Harrison Bailey (Aus) GPMStulz|
|DNF||Cameron Ivory (Aus) GPMStulz|
|DNF||Tasman Nankervis (Aus) GPMStulz|
|DNF||Aden Reynolds (Aus) GPMStulz|
|DNF||Cameron Roberts (Aus) GPMStulz|
|DNF||Julian Thomson (Aus) GPMStulz|
|DNF||Joel Walsh (Aus) GPMStulz|
|DNF||Aaron Watts (Aus) GPMStulz|
|DNF||Samuel Hill (Aus) Team Nero Bianchi|
|DNF||Jay Vine (Aus) Team Nero Bianchi|
|DNF||Chris Miller (Aus) Team Nero Bianchi|
|DNF||Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe|
|DNF||Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Bahrain-Merida|
|DNF||Rylan Dowdell (Aus) Butterfields - Appselec p/b Van Daam Racing|
|DNF||David Randall (Aus) Butterfields - Appselec p/b Van Daam Racing|
|DNF||William Barker (Aus) Phoenix Cycling Collective|
|DNF||Nathan Booth (Aus) Phoenix Cycling Collective|
|DNF||Toby Stewart (Aus) Phoenix cycling collective|
|DNF||Kevin Berwick (Aus) St. George Cycling Club Team|
|DNF||Luke Cridland (Aus) St. George Cycling Club Team|
|DNF||Daniel Bonello (Aus) St. George Cycling Club Team|
|DNF||Miles Scotson (Aus) Groupama-FDJ|
|DNF||Ben O'Connor (Aus) Team Dimension Data|
|DNF||Nathan Haas (Aus) Team Katusha Alpecin|
|DNF||Sam Crome (Aus) Team UKYO|
|DNF||Brenton Jones (Aus) Delko Marseille Provence|
|DNF||Zakkari Dempster (Aus) Israel Cycling Academy|
|DNF||Robbie Hucker (Aus) Team UKYO|
|DNF||Adam Lloyd (Aus) MTOSS Racing|
|DNF||Nick Spratt (Aus) MTOSS Racing|
|DNF||Samuel Volkers (Aus) Memil Pro Cycling|
|DNF||Gene Richards (Aus) Rauland Development Racing Team|
|DNF||Adam Nelson (Aus)|
|DNF||Damien Bovalino (Aus)|
|DNF||Kyle Thompson (Aus)|
|DNF||Alex Kinnane (Aus)|
|DNF||Mathew Ross (Aus)|
|DNF||Jonathan Clarke (Aus)|
|DNF||Tom Chapman (Aus)|
|DNF||Lachlan Marshall (Aus)|
|DNF||Tim Hoy (Aus)|
|DNF||Troy Herfoss (Aus)|
|DNF||Brendan Thornton (Aus)|
|DNF||Joshua Wilson (Aus)|
|DNF||Paul Redenbach (Aus)|
|DNF||Daniel Taylor (Aus)|
|DNF||Stuart Smith (Aus)|
|DNF||Christopher Ball (Aus)|
|DNF||Timothy Clarsen (Aus)|
|DNF||Brendon Brauer (Aus)|
|DNF||Peter Milostic (Aus)|
|DNF||Jacob Warman (Aus)|
|DNF||Joel Coxon (Aus)|
|DNF||Curtis Dowdell (Aus)|
|DNF||Thomas Rischmueller (Aus)|
|DNF||Adrian Jackson (Aus)|
|DNF||Guy Kalma (Aus)|
|DNF||Peter Wakefield (Aus)|
|DNF||Max Hardy (Aus)|
|DNF||Kelly Carter (Aus)|
|DNF||Steve Robb (Aus)|
|DNF||Darcy Ellerm-Norton (Aus)|
|DNF||Allan Iacuone (Aus)|
|DNF||Nathan Jones (Aus)|
|DNF||Sean Trainor (Aus)|
|DNF||Jake Klajnblat (Aus)|
|DNF||Jacob Langham (Aus)|
|DNF||Tom Just (Aus)|
|DNF||Todd Satchell (Aus)|
|DNF||Brodie Talbot (Aus)|
|DNF||Justin Gassner (Aus)|
|DNS||Ryan Cavanagh (Aus) St. George Continental Cycling Team|
|DNS||Ryan Thomas (Aus) Drapac Cannondale Holistic development team|
|DNS||Aden Reynolds (Aus) GPMStulz|
|DNS||Jason Thomason (Aus) Butterfields - Appselec p/b Van Daam Racing|
|DNS||Ben Spenceley (Aus) AMR Renault Racing|
|DNS||Ben Harvey (Aus) St. George Cycling Club Team|
|DNS||Matthias Kiernan (Aus)|
|DNS||Kierin Lewis (Aus)|
|DNS||Steven Richards (Aus)|