While all eyes were on the big duo of Orica-GreenEdge and Drapac Pro Cycling at the Australian elite men's national road race, Rhys Gillett (African Wildlife Safaris) made his way into the main break of the day and in doing so, secured himself the king of the mountains jersey.
The 23-year-old finished 39th overall but that was enough to secure the jersey and make his way onto the podium. Gillett explained to Cyclingnews after the race that there had been some late changes to team's tactics.
"I was thinking about getting the jersey about five minutes from the start. I had a chat with Pearso (director sportif Joel Pearson) and we changed the race plan a bit as I wasn't 100% confident in my form to pull off a win so I had to come away with something," he said.
Gillett lead the escape group over the top of Mt. Buninyong from lap's three to nine to easily claim the prize with a total of 29 points, 17 ahead of Will Clarke (Drapac) in second place. With a crowd estimate of 23, 000 in attendance providing what Richie Porte said was akin to a Tour de France stage, Gillett was spurred on the by crowds up the hill.
"It was nuts. I've never been in a situation like that. Racing in Italy a few years ago you'd have similar support on the side of the road but they were just screaming because it was a bike race whereas up here, everyone was screaming my name which was pretty cool," he explained.
Following his stirring ride, Gillett is now hoping to line up in Adelaide for the UniSA team for the first time at the Tour Down Under. "Fingers crossed, it's up to Brad McGee and the other selectors but hopefully I put on a good show for them," he said.
Having lodged their application for a Continental licence, African Wildlife Safaris will tackle the Jayco Herald Sun Tour next month with Gillett aiming for a high overall place. Following the stage race, Gillett hopes to achieve a top ride at the Oceania Championships time trial. "Time trialling is something that I used to be much better at and I need to start focusing on to be a more complete bike rider. That's the next goal," he told Cyclingnews.
After the Australian Summer, overseas is the next goal for the young Australian as he explained that "ideally I'd love to be back in Europe. I spent a season over there racing and it was just the best."
The UniSA team for the 2014 Santos Tour Down Under will be announced this week.
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