A valiant ride from Avanti Racing Team’s Mark O’Brien saw the Victorian step up for fifth place at the 99th edition of the Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic.
Mark went across with a late breakaway that saw six riders contest a sprint finish ahead of a fast-chasing peloton.
“Finishing fifth’s not the ideal result – I’d love to have won it – so it’s a bit of a shame,” Mark noted after the race. “Realistically I was hoping we’d get caught, so we’d have a go with Neil [van der Ploeg] and BJ [Brenton Jones] in the finish, but in the end we stayed away so I had to have a little go and see what happened.”
Calmer weather conditions than in previous years saw some different race tactics from the teams. A group of nine riders launched themselves off the front of the peloton after 10 kilometres, and within another 20 kilometres the breakaway was over nine minutes ahead of the peloton.
“It was a pretty uneventful race,” Mark said of the day’s racing. “Normally the Warny’s really windy; this year, it wasn’t.”
The less decisive headwind meant the peloton had a slower opening few hours, letting the breakaway build up their lead before putting the pedal down 150 kilometres later, finally bringing the group back with 50 kilometres left to race.
“I thought a break could actually win this year, without the wind pushing the peloton on, but in the end it did come back and the last part of the race was pretty solid,” Mark explained. “It would have been ideal to have someone in the break and see what happened with that.”
Mark’s winning breakaway started as a 12-man sally off the front of the main bunch with 30 kilometres to go, but an attack from the 27-year-old Avanti rider four kilometres out saw it whittled down to six riders, including two teammates from Team Budget Forklifts.
“It was never going to be ideal with two Budgets there,” Mark said. “On one side it was good because it was going to take NRS points from Tim Roe [Team Budget Forklifts]; on the other hand we could still have a really good team to win the race.”
Though the peloton was chasing just 30 seconds behind, the finish was in sight for the breakaway and Mark crossed the line with the leaders to finish in the top five.
“We gave it our best, but unfortunately we didn’t come away with the win.”