It would have been easier for Mark O'Brien to follow the wheels and accelerations of the dwindling peloton during the final stages of last year's Australian National Championships road race. Instead the rider who three National Road Series tours in 2012, decided to play his own card. He attacked, the predominantly European-based professionals followed and he ended the day in 12th-place.
Only 21 of the 140 starters would ride across the finish-line that day with O'Brien along with a handful of domestic NRS riders and the remaining professionals. O'Brien was part of the chase group that came in behind the top-3 places on the day. If the talented all-rounder, who excels in one-day races and hillier tours saved his energy, there's every chance he could have battled for the green and gold bands of national champion.
With the 2013 Australian National Championships just weeks away O'Brien believes he has every chance of repeating the most recent feats of former domestic winners Peter McDonald (2009) and Darren Lapthorne (2007) - who has been a training partner in preparation for the extended 195.6km race.
"He [Lapthorne] will have the national bands on the sleeves of his kit for the rest of his life and no one can take that away from him," explained O'Brien. "It would be such a huge honour to wear the national jersey overseas, the respect you would receive would be so much greater.
"If I was able to achieve that, then I would be satisfied with my life on the bike," he added.
The strength of the field has risen over the past editions and the addition of a full Orica-GreenEdge contingent will make it all the more challenging however, O'Brien is heading to the race in the "best form" he's been in, according to the 25-year-old.
"To win nationals would literally be my dream," said O'Brien. "I know I am up against some of the best guys in the world, so to win would still be a long shot, but to be able to wear the green and gold jersey would be amazing.
"I am training harder than I ever had before and my training data is telling me I'm in the best form I have ever been in.
"I have always gone into nationals doing the same training as most professionals, and have always done really well on the Buninyong course, but for 2013 I really wanted to give it everything I have and line up with the best possible form I can have."
O'Brien, who returned to the Australian domestic scene last year and promptly took out the general classification at the first three NRS tours of 2012; Tour of Mersey Valley, Toowoomba and North Western Tour believes the quality of the circuit has greatly improved. The Victorian-based rider will first gauge his form at the upcoming Jayco Herald Sun Tour, which starts on January 3, before taking the trip to Ballarat for his Bunninyong campaign. O'Brien will then travel to Europe to join his new Raleigh team for the coming season.
"It was really cool to see the progression from when I had lasted raced the NRS in 2007," explained O'Brien. "It's just a sign of things to come for the series as the level of professionalism and quality of racing had really stepped up.
"When I'm overseas I'll be following the NRS and will be keenly looking out for who is stepping up, especially now that I have a better insight into how far the racing has come."
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