Alastair Christie-Johnston (Team BridgeLane) has led the Cycle Sunshine Coast from start to finish to claim his first GC victory in the AusCycling National Road Series.
The 25-year-old Victorian won the opening stage on Thursday and held the leader’s jersey to the end of Sunday’s fifth and final stage.
The result builds on his stage win at the Tour of Gippsland this August and his top-10s at the national championships last year.
On stage 1, Christie-Johnston soloed to victory by 23 seconds ahead of the remnants of the race-defining breakaway. His BridgeLane teammate Sam Jenner had been part of the crucial move, alongside Blackshaw Racing’s Oli Stenning and Torben Partridge-Madsen, who completed the top four.
The peloton finished over three minutes behind on the attritional course, essentially ruling them out of contention for the overall.
Stage 2 was a short 6.5-kilometre time trial with an uphill finish. Former New Zealand champion Joseph Cooper blitzed the course in 10 minutes 40 seconds, a remarkable stage win given nobody else managed to go under 11 minutes.
Boris Clark (Cycling Development Foundation) rode into second, with Matthew Greenwood (Team BridgeLane) rounding out the stage podium. Christie-Johnston finished in fourth, 41 seconds behind the Kiwi, to extend his GC lead over Stenning, who finished a further 3 seconds adrift.
There was a quick turnaround to stage 3, which was held that evening under lights in Maroochydore. One of Christie-Johnston’s rivals, Stenning, crashed on the technical criterium course and saw his GC hopes evaporate as his lost nearly 4 minutes.
The race leader finished safely in the bunch, which narrowly failed to catch a three-man breakaway. Declan Trezise (ARA Skip Capital) sprinted to the stage win ahead of Ben Carman (Criterion Bex Racing) and Marcus Culey (CCACHE x Par Küp). It was Trezise’s second stage win in as many editions of Cycle Sunshine Coast, which is the home race for the ARA Skip Capital team.
Going into the stage 4, Christie-Johnston’s lead was 42 seconds to his teammate Sam Jenner, and 1 minute 23 seconds to Partridge-Madsen. Team BridgeLane was in a comfortable position, then, when Jenner and NRS leader Tristan Saunders gave them numbers in a breakaway that also contained Stenning, Tyler Tomkinson (ARA Skip Capital) and Joshua Ludman (Rauland Development Cycling Team).
Of the five, Saunders was the fastest at the line, taking his fourth win in the NRS this year after winning the Melbourne to Warrnambool and two stages plus the overall at the Tour of Gippsland. Christie-Johnston stole away from the peloton in the final kilometres to defend his GC lead by 13 seconds ahead of Jenner.
Christie-Johnston had, of course, nothing to fear as Team BridgeLane engineered another win on stage 5. This time, Ben Metcalfe (Team BridgeLane) broke away with Cooper to contest a two-up sprint into Eudlo. The Sydneysider comfortably got the better of the Kiwi to claim his first victory in the NRS.
Trezise won the crucial bunch kick to secure the sprint classification, but the story of the week was that by finishing in the peloton, Alastair Christie-Johnston had secured a breakthrough GC win. Team BridgeLane finished with three stages, a one-two overall and the teams classification, in addition to Emily Watts’ win in the women’s race.
Tom Cheesman (UTAS/Fairbrother Development Team) won the King of the Mountains jersey after battling with Ben Carman in the last-stage breakaway, while Matthew Greenwood was the best young rider.
Attention now turns to next month’s Spirit of Tasmania Cycle Tour, which will be the final stop on the 2023 NRS calendar.
Photos: Lucy Bowden