Luke Plapp secures Australian elite men's road race title

BUNINYONG AUSTRALIA JANUARY 16 Lucas Plapp of Australia celebrates at finish line as race winner during the Australian Cycling National Championships 2022 Mens Elite Road Race a 1856km race from Buninyong to Buninyong AusCyclingAus on January 16 2022 in Buninyong Australia Photo by Con ChronisGetty Images
Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers) celebrates the victory at the Australian Road National Championships 2022 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers) will wear the green and gold striped jersey of the Australian champion in his first year as a WorldTour professional after chasing down James Whelan (Team BridgeLane) on the final climb and then riding straight on by to take a solo win at the elite men's road race at the Federation University Road National Championships.

Whelan, who up until last year was riding for EF Education-Nippo, held on for second after spending around 30km out the front on a hot day in Buninyong, while mountain biker Brendan Johnston took third after jumping away from the chase group before the second last climb.

Plapp wasn't able to defend his elite time trial title on Wednesday, after being in isolation after coming in close contact with a COVID-19 case, but could return in time for the road race and as a result still managed to carve out another year in the jersey of the Australian national champion.

"I couldn’t ask for a better start," Plapp said, immediately after calling his new team to share the news of his win. "It was just awesome fun out there, I’ve dreamt of this one for a while. It was a shame to miss the TT but to make up for it here in the road race, nothing beats it."

As the final laps ticked down it turned into a battle between two riders, with Plapp going out in pursuit of Whelan with less than three laps to go. It quickly became a battle between the new WorldTour professional and Whelan, a rider who had just come out of the top tier after failing to find a contract for 2022. 

However, when Plapp caught Wheelan on that final climb, having carved the gap down to just 10 seconds as the bell rang to signal the last lap, there was no stopping him. The rider who was swamped last year after going solo much earlier in the race, had timed his run to perfection.

"With six to go, five to go, four to go I was like ‘ohh this is it, this is it, this is it’ but  was like ‘nah I can’t do it. I can’t make the same mistake as last year’ and I think I took a lot of learning from last year," Plapp said. "So to be able to do it today and be really patient, I couldn’t be happier. I was just glad. You learn from your mistakes, and I didn’t make the same mistake twice."

How it played out

The field that lined up to start the 185.6 kilometres race in Buninyong had a markedly different composition to usual. Australia’s only WorldTour squad, BikeExchange-Jayco, usually deliver a clear race favourite, bringing strength and numbers to tackle the 16 laps of the 11.6 kilometre loop. This COVID-19 pandemic impacted year, though, they were lining up with only three and their numbers were nearly matched by the two strong Jumbo-Visma squad of Rohan Dennis and Chris Harper.

There were also a number of solo WorldTour riders, from Plapp and Chris Hamilton (Team DSM) trying to make a mark against the well represented domestic teams, like Whelan’s new squad Team BridgeLane. That made it an unpredictable race; with so many riders sensing a chance, the moves just kept coming.

A seven-man group got away early, but didn’t last, with the one that stuck being an early break of two with Kane Richards (ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) and Jean-Pierre van der Merwe (Team BridgeLane) stretching out the gap beyond four minutes with 13 laps to go. There was also a chase of two behind, Brendon Green (Cycling Development Foundation) and Andrew Friebe (University of Queensland), but as the kilometres to go ticked down Friebe drifted. Then when Jumbo-Visma started to crank up the pace on the climb at the halfway mark, all the riders in the middle were swept up. 

By the ninth lap the gap to lead riders Richards and van der Merwe was down to just over a minute as the pressure was again on the front, with Dennis repeatedly turning up the heat on the 30°C plus day as he worked to toughen and split the race for his new teammate Harper.  A chase group of more than ten formed, including Harper, Chris Hamilton (Team DSM), Durbridge, criterium title winner Cameron Ivory (St George Continental Team), Nick White and a number of Team BridgeLane teammates, plus, Brendan Johnston. 

Then over the next laps the front of the race came back together, with the pair out the front swept up and lead group continuing to swell. Defending champion Cameron Meyer (BikeExchange-Jayco), newly signed Ineos Grenadiers rider Luke Plapp and Dennis, were among those who joined to make a bunch that was now around 30 strong while Whelan jumped out the front solo, a move he would repeat later in the race. A group of four then joined Whelan – Johnston, Hamilton, Mark O’Brien (InForm TMX MAKE) and Whelan’s teammate Sam Jenner – to form a cohesive five.

They held the gap as it ticked down to six laps to go but as another lap passed the group behind, which by now had shrunk to around 11, caught and merged. There were of course then more riders who decided to punch off the front with Lionel Mawditt (St George Continental) and Sam Jenner (Team BridgeLane) carving out a gap of around a minute with less than 40km of racing to go. Whelan then went again, bridging over to join the two up front and then he promptly shot off alone with less than three laps to go.

Behind Harper and Durbridge were active in the group, with the BikeExchange-Jayco rider also bolting away and getting a gap as the race crossed the line for three laps to go. Durbridge’s move didn’t hold but Plapp, who had been sitting back quietly in the group for some time and conserving energy, was the next to go and he quickly started making inroads. He steadily built his gap on the chasing group and started reeling Whelan in. Johnston then made the jump from the chasing group before the second last climb, slotting into third place on the road with less than 20 kilometres to go.

Whelan fought to maintain his lead on the final climb, but once Plapp caught the Team BridgeLane rider there was no stopping him. Whelan held second, finishing 45 second back from Plapp while Johnston came over the line nearly two minutes back in third. Then from the chasing group, more than a minute further back, it was Richards who secured fourth even after having spent so long in the early break.

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Full results
Pos.Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Lucas Plapp (Aus) Ineos Grenadiers 4:52:04
2James Whelan (Aus) Team Bridgelane 0:00:45
3Brendan Johnston (Aus) 0:01:50
4Kane` Richards (Aus) ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast 0:03:13
5Drew Morey (Aus) Team Bridgelane
6Alastair Christie-Johnston (Aus) Team Bridgelane
7Luke Durbridge (Aus) BikeExchange-Jayco
8Mark O'Brien (Aus) InForm TMX MAKE
9Chris Harper (Aus) Jumbo-Visma
10Benjamin Dyball (Aus) Team UKYO 0:03:19
11Cameron Ivory (Aus) St George Continental Cycling Team 0:04:29
12Cyrus Monk (Aus) Cycle House 0:06:13
13Jason Thomason (Aus) Butterfields - Insurance Advisernet P/B Van D'am Racing
14Liam White (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing
15Tasman Nankervis (Aus) St George Continental Cycling Team
16Luke Burns (Aus) Inform TMX MAKE
17Dylan Lindsey (Aus) NCMG Criterion Racing
18Christopher Hamilton (Aus) Team DSM
19Steven Robb (Aus) Cycle House 0:06:15
20Sam Jenner (Aus) Team BridgeLane 0:10:30
21Lionel Mawditt (Aus) St George Continental Cycling Team
DNFCameron Meyer (Aus) Bike Exchange Jayco
DNFNick White (Aus) Team BridgeLane
DNFJean-Pierre van der Merwe (Aus) Team BridgeLane
DNFTom Chapman (Aus) Team BridgeLane
DNFRohan Dennis (Aus) Jumbo Visma
DNFCameron Scott (Aus) ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast
DNFCarter Bettles (Aus) ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast
DNFOliver Stenning (Aus) ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast
DNFZack Gilmore (Aus) ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast
DNFCraig Wiggins (Aus) ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast
DNFAngus Lyons (Aus) ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast
DNFAidan Buttigieg (Aus) Nero Continental
DNFBen Carman (Aus) Nero Continental
DNFCooper Sayers (Aus) Nero Continental
DNFDylan McKenna (Aus) Nero Continental
DNFLeigh Phillips (Aus) Nero Continental
DNFSam Hill (Aus) Nero Continental
DNFRiley Fleming (Aus) St George Continental Cycling Team
DNFBailey Walters (Aus) St George Continental Cycling Team
DNFConnor Reardon (Aus) St George Continental Cycling Team
DNFCurtis Dowdell (Aus) Butterfields - Insurance Advisernet P/B Van D'am Racing
DNFTorben Partridge-Madsen (Aus) CCS Cycling
DNFMarc Williams (Aus) CCS Cycling
DNFGriffin Knight (Aus) Cycle House
DNFJoel Green (Aus) Cycle House
DNFTerance Hore (Aus) Cycle House
DNFJaxon King (Aus) Cycling Development Foundation
DNFBrendon Green (Aus) Cycling Development Foundation
DNFConor Leahy (Aus) Inform TMX MAKE
DNFBrenton Jones (Aus) Inform TMX Make
DNFBrandon Conway (Aus) NCMG Criterion Racing
DNFHugo Thompson (Aus) NCMG Criterion Racing
DNFNick Pedler (Aus) NCMG Criterion Racing
DNFScott Reynolds (Aus) NCMG Criterion Racing
DNFBentley Niquet-Olden (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing
DNFKai Chapman (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing
DNFJordan Schmidt (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing
DNFFintan Conway (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing
DNFCallum Pearce (Aus) ONYVA Racing
DNFRobert Parker (Aus) ONYVA Racing
DNFBen Spenceley (Aus) Team Rauland
DNFSam Greenwood (Aus) Team Rauland
DNFTimothy Cameron (Aus) Team Rauland
DNFTom Chester (Aus) Team Rauland
DNFJoshua Wilson (Aus) VA Pro Racing
DNFPatrick Saccani-Williams (Aus) VA Pro Racing
DNFJacob Langham (Aus) VA Pro Racing
DNFTony Doherty (Aus) VA Pro Racing
DNFJordan Villani (Aus) Victorian Institute of Sport
DNFBenjamin Treble (Aus) Apres Velo Racing
DNFSteven Mayers (Aus) CPCC
DNFAdam Blazevic (Aus) Giant Racing
DNFStuart Smith (Aus) Leongatha CC
DNFConnor Sens (Aus) M G K Vis
DNFSamuel Barnden (Aus) Melbourne University Cycling Club
DNFNick Spratt (Aus) Penrith Cycling Club
DNFChris Ling (Aus) Randwick Cycling Club
DNFNathan Earle (Aus) Team UKYO
DNFAndrew Friebe (Aus) University of Queensland
DNFTimothy Roe (Aus) Villawood
DNFStuart Darling (Aus) Wagga Wagga Cycling Club
DNFLucas Hoffman (Aus) Whyalla Cycling Club
DNFDaniel Siwek (Aus) Whyalla Cycling Club
DNFAlex Durrant-Whyte (Aus) Zappi RT
DNFJohn Davis (Aus)
DNFLiam Edwards (Aus)
DNFChris Hargreaves (Aus)
DNFKyle Lierich (Aus)
DNFDaniel Luke (Aus)
DNFDan Peck (Aus)
DNFMatthew Sherwin (Aus)
DNFNicholas Squillari (Aus)
DNFCallum Scotson (Aus) Bike Exchange Jayco
DNSRylee Field (Aus) Team BridgeLane
DNSBrent Rees (Aus) NCMG Criterion Racing
DNSKarl Michelin-Beard (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing
DNSRyan Cavanagh (Aus) Victoire Hiroshima
DNSBen Hill (Aus) Canberra Cycling Club
DNSAdam Jackson (Aus) Castlemaine cycling club
DNSDylan Sunderland (Aus) Global 6 Cycling
DNSDeclan Wharton (Aus) University of Queensland
DNSJack Aitken (Aus)

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Australia Editor

Simone is a degree-qualified journalist that has accumulated decades of wide-ranging experience while working across a variety of leading media organisations. She joined Cyclingnews as a Production Editor at the start of the 2021 season and has now moved into the role of Australia Editor. Previously she worked as a freelance writer, Australian Editor at Ella CyclingTips and as a correspondent for Reuters and Bloomberg. Cycling was initially purely a leisure pursuit for Simone, who started out as a business journalist, but in 2015 her career focus also shifted to the sport.

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