Despite having been part of a day-long breakaway at the elite men's Australian road race national championships, former omnium world champion Michael Freiberg (Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) battled back to surprise leading duo Chris Harper (Team BridgeLane) and Cameron Meyer (Mitchelton-Scott) in the final kilometre to win the green-and-gold jersey in Buninyong, Victoria, on Sunday.
Both Freiberg and Harper has been part of a four-man move along with Meyer's Mitchelton teammates Luke Durbridge and defending champion Alex Edmondson early on in the 185.6km, 16-lap road race on an 11.6km circuit that included the short but sharp climb of Mount Buninyong.
When the quartet were joined by Meyer, Harper's BridgeLane teammate Jason Lea and Conor Murtagh (Oliver's Real Food Racing), Freiberg and Murtaghe – with no teammates – looked like the men most likely to miss out.
But with Durbridge and Edmondson eventually committing to teammate Meyer, and with Harper arguably the strongest rider of the day, committing himself to a number of attacks in the final couple of laps, Freiberg quietly went about trying to stay in contact with Meyer and Harper, who led the race over the climb for the final time.
On the run-in to the finish, Harper and Meyer's game of cat-and-mouse heading into the final couple of kilometres allowed Freiberg to battle back once more, and having made contact with just 800 metres to go, he hit them hard, sprinting through for victory as the others scrambled, unsuccessfully, to get onto his wheel.
"To be honest, not at all," Freiberg said at the finish when he was asked if he thought he might still be able to catch Meyer and Harper coming towards the end of the race.
"At first I was just trying to secure third, but then I thought, 'No way – this is not really happening,' when I caught them, and then managed to stay away. It's quite surreal.
"I was severely cramping on the climb on the last lap," he admitted, "but I came good and managed to chase over the top of climb.
"I thought, 'They're not going to let me come past them,' but I managed to hit them with speed, and I got a gap, and that was that."
How it unfolded
The four-man break of Freiberg, Harper, Durbridge and Edmondson escaped the clutches of the bunch early in the race, and were chased by a 30-strong group that spent most of the day between the leaders and the bunch.
There were plenty of early retirements as the distance and pace took its toll, including 2017 road race champion Miles Scotson (Groupama-FDJ), who crashed early on. The attritional nature of the race meant that there were only 25 finishers, with those calling it a day before the finish including Mat Hayman (Mitchelton-Scott), Lachlan Morton (EF Education First) and Lotto Soudal's Caleb Ewan, who had forgone his criterium title defence on Friday in favour of keeping his legs fresh for Sunday's road race.
With 10 laps to go, the leaders still had an almost two-minute lead over the chasing group, and they looked strong, working well together, and by seven laps to go, the main bunch were over five-and-a-half minutes behind the leaders, and looking as though they knew their day was over.
In between, the 30-rider group could make little inroads, and, at just over 50km to go, it began to splinter under pressure from Ben O'Connor, with the Dimension Data rider eager to push the pace.
It was at this point that former national time trial champion Meyer decided to leave the chasers behind, taking Lea and Murtagh with him for the ride, and they'd closed to 1:37 behind the leaders with 45km – four laps – to go, with the rest of the chasing group almost another minute behind.
Meyer worked well with his two companions, despite the fact that he had two Mitchelton teammates up ahead in Edmondson and Durbridge. The team must have fancied the odds of three riders versus four, and that's what happened with 37km to go when the two small groups combined to make it seven riders at the front of the race: Murtagh, Lea, Harper, Freiberg, Durbridge, Edmondson and Meyer.
Almost as soon as the juncture was made, Durbridge put in an attack, and Freiberg was unlucky enough to unship his chain. Although the eventual winner was forced to stop, he quickly managed to get it on and again, and received a push from his team mechanic who had pulled over to assist.
When Harper attacked a few kilometres later, inside three laps to go, it was Meyer who reacted, putting Murtagh and Lea in trouble.
Harper attacked again over the top of the climb, which was enough to this time drop Edmondson, leaving four riders at the head of the race, while the chasing group – by now well out of contention – was led by Team Sunweb's Jai Hindley, who would eventually finish in the top 10.
Harper again went on the attack on the climb of Mount Buninyong inside the final two laps, with Durbridge giving everything for Meyer, who managed to regain Harper's wheel at the top of the climb as Durbridge then fell away and Freiberg was left to take the climb at his own pace.
Harper and Meyer continued to take turns until 3km to go, with Freiberg seemingly out of contention, 20 seconds back. Harper dropped back to tighten his shoes and to let Meyer take the lead, who then asked Harper to come through, audibly telling him that "Freiberg will come back and beat us both" if they didn't work together.
And how right he proved to be, as unlikely as it really seemed: Harper pulled alongside Meyer, but neither would commit, with Freiberg rapidly approaching. He made contact with just 800 metres to go, gritted his teeth, and opened his sprint, hanging on to take a memorable victory from Harper – third last year – and a visibly upset Meyer.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Michael Freiberg (Aus) Pro Racing Sunshine Coast||4:44:48|
|2||Chris Harper (Aus) Team BridgeLane||0:00:01|
|3||Cameron Meyer (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||Row 2 - Cell 2|
|4||Luke Durbridge (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||0:01:23|
|5||Dylan Sunderland (Aus) Team BridgeLane||0:03:24|
|6||Scott Bowden (Aus) Team BridgeLane||Row 5 - Cell 2|
|7||Mark O'Brien (Aus)||Row 6 - Cell 2|
|8||Lucas Hamilton (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||Row 7 - Cell 2|
|9||Nicholas Schultz (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||0:03:29|
|10||Jai Hindley (Aus) Team Sunweb||0:04:16|
|11||Conor Murtagh (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing||0:04:36|
|12||Drew Morey (Aus) Terengganu Cycling Team||0:04:39|
|13||Jason Lea (Aus) Team BridgeLane||0:05:27|
|14||Reece Tucknott (Aus)||Row 13 - Cell 2|
|15||Brendan Johnston (Aus)||0:06:14|
|16||Michael Storer (Aus) Team Sunweb||0:06:55|
|17||Nathan Elliott (Aus) Inform TM Insight MAKE||Row 16 - Cell 2|
|18||Ben Hill (Aus) Ljubljana Gusto Santic||0:07:16|
|19||Cyrus Monk (Aus) EvoPro Racing||Row 18 - Cell 2|
|20||Adam Hansen (Aus) Lotto Soudal||0:07:19|
|21||James Whelan (Aus) EF Education First||0:07:40|
|22||Damien Howson (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||0:09:26|
|23||Liam White (Aus) Drapac Cannondale Holistic development team||0:09:30|
|24||Lionel Mawditt (Aus) Team BridgeLane||0:11:45|
|25||Alistair Donohoe (Aus) Pro Racing Sunshine Coast||0:12:42|
|DNF||Alexander Edmondson (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||Row 25 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Callum Scotson (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||Row 26 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Michael Hepburn (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||Row 27 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Mathew Hayman (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||Row 28 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Robert Stannard (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott||Row 29 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Chris Hamilton (Aus) Team Sunweb||Row 30 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Mitchell Docker (Aus) EF Education First||Row 31 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Lachlan Morton (Aus) EF Education First||Row 32 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Caleb Ewan (Aus) Lotto Soudal||Row 33 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Ayden Toovey (Aus) Team BridgeLane||Row 34 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Benjamin Van Dam (Aus) Team BridgeLane||Row 35 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Neil Van Der Ploeg (Aus) Team BridgeLane||Row 36 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Tristan Ward (Aus) Team BridgeLane||Row 37 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Toby Orchard (Aus) Pro Racing Sunshine Coast||Row 38 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Jonathon Noble (Aus) Pro Racing Sunshine Coast||Row 39 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Freddy Ovett (Aus) Pro Racing Sunshine Coast||Row 40 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Ashley Mackay (Aus) Pro Racing Sunshine Coast||Row 41 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Timothy Cameron (Aus) St. George Continental Cycling Team||Row 42 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Rowan Dever (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing||Row 43 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Angus Lyons (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing||Row 44 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Russell Gill (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing||Row 45 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Karl Michelin-Beard (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing||Row 46 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Clinton Edwards (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing||Row 47 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Jesse Featonby (Aus) Oliver's Real Food Racing||Row 48 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Patrick Burt (Aus) Drapac Cannondale Holistic development team||Row 49 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Thomas Kaesler (Aus) Drapac Cannondale Holistic development team||Row 50 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Oliver Martin (Aus) Drapac Cannondale Holistic development team||Row 51 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Theodore Yates (Aus) Drapac Cannondale Holistic development team||Row 52 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Thomas Coates (Aus) Futuro - Maxxis Pro Cycling presented by Velo Gita||Row 53 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Michael Bettany (Aus) Futuro - Maxxis Pro Cycling presented by Velo Gita||Row 54 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Dylan Newbery (Aus) Futuro - Maxxis Pro Cycling presented by Velo Gita||Row 55 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Tom Robinson (Aus) Futuro - Maxxis Pro Cycling presented by Velo Gita||Row 56 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Cameron Layton (Aus) Futuro - Maxxis Pro Cycling presented by Velo Gita||Row 57 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Dylan Lindsey (Aus) Subaru - Anchor Point Racing Team||Row 58 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Jordan Villani (Aus) Subaru - Anchor Point Racing Team||Row 59 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Nicholas Canterbury (Aus) Subaru - Anchor Point Racing Team||Row 60 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Nicholas Leonars (Aus) Subaru - Anchor Point Racing Team||Row 61 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Nick Locandro (Aus) Subaru - Anchor Point Racing Team||Row 62 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Alex Holden (Aus) Subaru - Anchor Point Racing Team||Row 63 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Harrison Bailey (Aus) GPMStulz||Row 64 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Cameron Ivory (Aus) GPMStulz||Row 65 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Tasman Nankervis (Aus) GPMStulz||Row 66 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Aden Reynolds (Aus) GPMStulz||Row 67 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Cameron Roberts (Aus) GPMStulz||Row 68 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Julian Thomson (Aus) GPMStulz||Row 69 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Joel Walsh (Aus) GPMStulz||Row 70 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Aaron Watts (Aus) GPMStulz||Row 71 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Samuel Hill (Aus) Team Nero Bianchi||Row 72 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Jay Vine (Aus) Team Nero Bianchi||Row 73 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Chris Miller (Aus) Team Nero Bianchi||Row 74 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe||Row 75 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Bahrain-Merida||Row 76 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Rylan Dowdell (Aus) Butterfields - Appselec p/b Van Daam Racing||Row 77 - Cell 2|
|DNF||David Randall (Aus) Butterfields - Appselec p/b Van Daam Racing||Row 78 - Cell 2|
|DNF||William Barker (Aus) Phoenix Cycling Collective||Row 79 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Nathan Booth (Aus) Phoenix Cycling Collective||Row 80 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Toby Stewart (Aus) Phoenix cycling collective||Row 81 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Kevin Berwick (Aus) St. George Cycling Club Team||Row 82 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Luke Cridland (Aus) St. George Cycling Club Team||Row 83 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Daniel Bonello (Aus) St. George Cycling Club Team||Row 84 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Miles Scotson (Aus) Groupama-FDJ||Row 85 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Ben O'Connor (Aus) Team Dimension Data||Row 86 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Nathan Haas (Aus) Team Katusha Alpecin||Row 87 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Sam Crome (Aus) Team UKYO||Row 88 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Brenton Jones (Aus) Delko Marseille Provence||Row 89 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Zakkari Dempster (Aus) Israel Cycling Academy||Row 90 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Robbie Hucker (Aus) Team UKYO||Row 91 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Adam Lloyd (Aus) MTOSS Racing||Row 92 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Nick Spratt (Aus) MTOSS Racing||Row 93 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Samuel Volkers (Aus) Memil Pro Cycling||Row 94 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Gene Richards (Aus) Rauland Development Racing Team||Row 95 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Adam Nelson (Aus)||Row 96 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Damien Bovalino (Aus)||Row 97 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Kyle Thompson (Aus)||Row 98 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Alex Kinnane (Aus)||Row 99 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Mathew Ross (Aus)||Row 100 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Jonathan Clarke (Aus)||Row 101 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Tom Chapman (Aus)||Row 102 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Lachlan Marshall (Aus)||Row 103 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Tim Hoy (Aus)||Row 104 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Troy Herfoss (Aus)||Row 105 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Brendan Thornton (Aus)||Row 106 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Joshua Wilson (Aus)||Row 107 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Paul Redenbach (Aus)||Row 108 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Daniel Taylor (Aus)||Row 109 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Stuart Smith (Aus)||Row 110 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Christopher Ball (Aus)||Row 111 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Timothy Clarsen (Aus)||Row 112 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Brendon Brauer (Aus)||Row 113 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Peter Milostic (Aus)||Row 114 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Jacob Warman (Aus)||Row 115 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Joel Coxon (Aus)||Row 116 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Curtis Dowdell (Aus)||Row 117 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Thomas Rischmueller (Aus)||Row 118 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Adrian Jackson (Aus)||Row 119 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Guy Kalma (Aus)||Row 120 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Peter Wakefield (Aus)||Row 121 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Max Hardy (Aus)||Row 122 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Kelly Carter (Aus)||Row 123 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Steve Robb (Aus)||Row 124 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Darcy Ellerm-Norton (Aus)||Row 125 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Allan Iacuone (Aus)||Row 126 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Nathan Jones (Aus)||Row 127 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Sean Trainor (Aus)||Row 128 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Jake Klajnblat (Aus)||Row 129 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Jacob Langham (Aus)||Row 130 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Tom Just (Aus)||Row 131 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Todd Satchell (Aus)||Row 132 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Brodie Talbot (Aus)||Row 133 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Justin Gassner (Aus)||Row 134 - Cell 2|
|DNS||Ryan Cavanagh (Aus) St. George Continental Cycling Team||Row 135 - Cell 2|
|DNS||Ryan Thomas (Aus) Drapac Cannondale Holistic development team||Row 136 - Cell 2|
|DNS||Aden Reynolds (Aus) GPMStulz||Row 137 - Cell 2|
|DNS||Jason Thomason (Aus) Butterfields - Appselec p/b Van Daam Racing||Row 138 - Cell 2|
|DNS||Ben Spenceley (Aus) AMR Renault Racing||Row 139 - Cell 2|
|DNS||Ben Harvey (Aus) St. George Cycling Club Team||Row 140 - Cell 2|
|DNS||Matthias Kiernan (Aus)||Row 141 - Cell 2|
|DNS||Kierin Lewis (Aus)||Row 142 - Cell 2|
|DNS||Steven Richards (Aus)||Row 143 - Cell 2|
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