It was a winning debut for 20-year-old sprinter Jensen Plowright (Team BridgeLane) at the 267 kilometre Melbourne to Warrnambool on the weekend while Matilda Raynolds (Specialized Women’s Racing) became the first rider to deliver multiple victories in the women’s category, which was introduced to the Victorian event in 2015.
A large group was coming toward the line near the end of the 105th edition of the Melbourne to Warrnambool when Plowright, despite his ability to deliver a fast finish, leapt out of the group at just over a kilometre to go. He held off the determined charge from behind to take victory in the men’s National Road Series (NRS) event with a time of 6 hours, four minutes and 44 seconds.
“I got a sniff at the end there coming round the corner. Everyone sat up and I had good legs so I just gassed it,” said Plowright, the youngest winner of the race since Will Walker took victory in 2004.
“I am feeling on top of the world at the moment, I cannot believe I won that and Ben Hill second. I came into this going good and wanting to win it but there are 200 dudes in the race and it’s 270 kilometres, what are the chances?”
Ben Hill won the sprint from the closing group to make it a 1-2 for Team BridgeLane while Liam White (Olivers Real Food Racing) came third in the event, which was due to run in February but, after being postponed due to a COVID-19 cluster in the state, instead slotted into the calendar in May.
The race, however, dodged the potentially blustery and cool late-autumn conditions, facing an unusually warm and calm day.
The first three of the women – who race amongst and started with the men’s NRS competitors – came in among a smaller group less than 17 minutes later, completing the event in six hours, 21 minutes and 31 seconds.
“It wasn’t until the last few kilometres that I was thinking about the win and really wanting it,” said Raynolds.
“We were with a group of guys as well, I found the right wheel, I’m used to racing the guys, and I got out a bit ahead of the pack and crossed the line.”
Raynolds netted the much prized win ahead of Justine Barrow (Roxsolt Liv SRAM) and Nicole Frain (Sydney Uni-Staminade), after what hadn’t been the easiest start to the year after a crash in the criterium at Australia’s Road National Championships took her out of contention in that event and then the resulting injury hampered her run in what was looking like a promising tilt at the road race.
“I’m relieved to get through as I felt horrific today, the bonus is that you have 270 kilometres to come good. It probably took until 150 to start feeling a bit better. While I feel like last year’s race was probably harder, this year’s I felt worse, so they’re on par,” said Raynolds.
“I really needed to get through today for my own self-esteem and to get back on track. Getting the win was a bonus, making it was huge.”
The National Road Series continues on May 8 with the long-running Grafton to Inverell, with the men taking on a 228 kilometre course while the women, with an NRS event at the New South Wales race for the first time, tackle 136.6 kilometres.
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