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Rathbone nearly throws Austral victory away

Jackson-Leigh Rathbone celebrates before the line

Jackson-Leigh Rathbone celebrates before the line (Image credit: CJ Farquharson)

By Mal Sawford in Melbourne

20 year-old New South Wales rider Jackson-Leigh Rathbone may have won the 110th edition of the Austral Wheelrace in Melbourne, Victoria on Saturday, but he came within an inch of having a much bigger burden than the impressive trophy to weigh down his trip home.

Rathbone showed an impressive finishing burst on the final lap of the wheelrace final, and looked unbeatable when he unleashed his kick for home. He was two lengths clear when he swung into the home straight, and thrust his right arm skyward half way down the straight to celebrate his win, only to see an orange blur fly past at the top of the track as he hit the line.

That orange blur was Malaysian sprinter Azizul Awang, who had launched himself clear of the chasing bunch in the back straight to come from nowhere to catch Rathbone at the line. Awang, and the near capacity crowd, thought his desperate lunge for the line had been enough to snatch the win, and the Malaysian celebrated briefly before the photo finish revealed Rathbone had hung on by the barest of margins.

While the judges deliberated, a sheepish Rathbone told the race caller simply, "I feel very silly."

After the presentation ceremony, Rathbone was frank is his assessment of his overconfidence. "I was feeling very confident. I knew I was on the right gear, it was the right temperature. I just let it get away a bit in my head I guess." Watching Awang celebrate, and asked what went through his mind, Rathbone revealed that "I had an essay full of thoughts in my head after the finish line. I wanted to find the deepest hole I could, pretty much."

"I took it as a lesson learned, but fortunately someone was looking after me upstairs and I came away number one. I was just too cocky basically. A very big lesson, and to learn it here and not pay any penalty, I almost felt guilty."

"I wouldn't say it's my nature to be cocky. It was quite devastating to think he had got over [me]. It's not a one man race, that's the other thing. You've got other people sacrificing their own chances and towing you around, putting a lot of faith and effort in, and losing would have scarred then as well."

See the full report, results and photos from Australia's oldest race.

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