He's won national titles, world championships and Olympic medals, but until Monday, Michael Hepburn (ORICA-Scott) had never won a stage of the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic. That changed in Portarlington when Hepburn attacked a four-man late race breakaway that included race leader Ian Bibby (JLT Condor) and Sunday's second place finisher Jesse Kerrison (IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness).
"I wanted to go to the line by myself," Hepburn told reporters, including Cyclingnews. "I threw a couple attacks in but I couldn't get rid of them. They were stock-standard attacks in the obvious moments, so I decided to attack through the start/finish line, which you don't normally do here and try to catch Jesse off-guard. Luckily I got a gap and could keep going with it."
It was chilly, with temperatures only in the high teens, and breezy along the Esplanade when the elite men set off for stage two of the three-day race series. ORICA-Scott lined-up with what Hepburn described as "an open plan" after a last corner crash on Sunday's stage one derailed Caleb Ewan's ambitions for his fourth Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic overall title.
"We can't fault anyone yesterday," said Hepburn. "We put ourselves into a situation to get a result there in the end, and one small moment like that can cost you the race. We're here to get in some hard racing to prepare for the Nationals coming up this week. Every race we do here is another stepping stone to that.
"There was an opportunity there for a few guys to go up the road be quite aggressive," Hepburn noted. "I'm thankful to have the form and legs to go with it."
Like the women's race held one hour earlier, the men's race split early over the deceptively difficult course.
"It went really hard on the climbs and the race split at a really tough point," said stage one winner and race leader Ian Bibby. "I had a bit of luck yesterday, and it was quite nice to back that up today."
Showing he had escaped Sunday's crash without injury, Ewan went on the attack with Robbie Hucker (VTWO Team) for company at the mid-point of the hour-long race. Hucker was unwilling to contribute to Ewan's effort up the road, so ORICA-Scott elected to bring the race back together.
Luke Durbridge (ORICA-Scott) countered Ewan's catch before Hepburn launched what would prove to be the race winning move, going clear with Bibby, Kerrison and Matt Gibson (Condor) with three laps remaining. Hepburn attacked again with two laps left, escaping solo and holding his chasers to the line.
"The form is pretty good," Hepburn said. "I've had a good summer training. Until you've had a few race days, it's hard to really gauge where the form is at, but I've felt good the last couple days. I'll have another crack tomorrow."
Kerrison crashed out of the chase on the penultimate lap.
"Everyone seems to fall off around me, and I somehow seem to avoid it," joked Bibby. "Jesse was unlucky crashing. When it happened, I sat up and waited for Matt. We got our heads down together."
Bibby and Gibson evaded the peloton by a mere two seconds with Bibby getting the upper-hand in the two-up sprint to solidify his overall lead. Bibby will head to Williamstown with 22 points over Gibson, who has 16 points, and Hepburn with 12 points.
"You have your time off and go on holiday and then come back and you're out in the snow and rain in England," said Bibby. "It's hard to imagine that here. You never know how you're going to go – dropped on the first lap or there to contend at the end. It's nice to show that hard work in the rain and show has paid off."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Michael Hepburn (Aus) Orica Scott||1:00:23|
|2||Ian Bibby (GBr) JLT Condor||0:00:06|
|3||Mathew Gibson (GBr) Condor|
|4||Brenton Jones (Aus) JLT Condor||0:00:08|
|5||Caleb Ewan (Aus) Orica Scott|
|6||Samuel Spokes (Aus) Total Rush|
|7||Anthony Giacoppo (Aus) Isowhey Sports Swisswellness|
|8||Benjamin Hill (Aus) GTR||0:00:09|
|9||Cameron Bayly (Aus) Isowhey Sports Swisswellness|
|10||Nathan Haas (Aus) Vtwo Team|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Ian Bibby (GBr) JLT Condor||22||pts|
|2||Mathew Gibson (GBr) Condor||16|
|3||Michael Hepburn (Aus) Orica Scott||12|
|4||Anthony Giacoppo (Aus) Isowhey Sports Swisswellness)||10|
|5||Jesse Kerrison (Aus) Isowhey Sports Swisswellness||10|
|6||Samuel Spokes (Aus) Total Rush||9|
|7||Cameron Bayly (Aus) Isowhey Sports Swisswellness||9|
|8||Brenton Jones (Aus) JLT Condor||7|
|9||Caleb Ewan (Aus) Orica Scott||6|
|10||Patrick Lane (Aus) Vtwo Team||5|