Melbourne to Warrnambool: Mark O’Brien wins solo, 14 years after first podium

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Veteran Melbourne cyclist Mark O’Brien has won the 108th Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic, soloing to victory today after an attack-filled finale to the 267-kilometre race.

Competing as an individual, O’Brien outwitted and outrode the heavyweight teams of the AusCycling National Road Series in the crosswinds.

Having placed second way back in 2010 and third in 2020, persistence paid off for the Carnegie Caulfield rider.

“I’m bloody rapt,” O’Brien said in a post-race interview. “I was talking to an old friend, saying this is lucky number 13 edition of Warrny for me. To finally get the win after second, third, fourth and fifth, I’m pretty rapt, and I guess I can hang the boots up at the Warrny now.”

How it unfolded

171 starters left Avalon Airport but their number was reduced by some early crashes, including abandonments for ARA Skip Capital's Declan Trezise and Dylan Proctor-Parker.

The first part of the race was characterised by a three-man breakaway, with Nick White (DUDA), Jack Aitken (Team Royal Bikes) and Samual Eddy (St George Continental) getting a maximum gap of nearly six minutes.

Aitken gobbled up maximum points at each of the intermediate sprints and climbs to secure both the Deakin University Sprint Classification and the SRAM Mountain Classification.

Behind, the major NRS teams – notably ARA Skip Capital, CCACHE x Par Küp and pre-race favourites Team BridgeLane – took responsibility for controlling the peloton.

With 90km remaining, the leaders were reeled in, triggering a flurry of counter-attacks. Under-23 national champion Fergus Browning (Trinity Racing) was the principal protagonist, with St George Continental also active.

Unusually, however, there was barely a breath of wind along the Great Ocean Road, and the peloton stayed together despite the moves.

With 50km remaining, the shape of the race changed dramatically when crosswinds finally emerged. Browning was again the instigator, driving the pace that split the peloton, with around 25 riders making the front group.

These leaders eked out a minute’s gap to the peloton until, with 35km left, the games began: riders looked at each other, gaps were allowed to open, and a group of six rode off the front – including O’Brien, Connor Sens (St George Continental) and BridgeLane’s Sam Jenner.

The latter refused to work until his teammate and defending champion Tristan Saunders bridged across with Alastair Christie-Johnston (CCACHE x Par Küp) and Brandon Davids (Villawood). They were eventually joined by Browning, who put in a huge effort to bridge the gap alone, to make a group of 10 who would go on to contest the win.

The endgame began in the final 10km with O’Brien launching the first attack up a little rise – and the second attack, too. Though both efforts were short-lived, they did drop Jenner from the front group, making it every man for himself as Saunders had now lost his last teammate.

Sens was the first to take advantage, launching clear with 8km to go.

A kilometre later, O’Brien countered from the group, bridged to Sens and briefly swapped turns before leaving the gravel national champion behind in pursuit of solo glory.

From there, no-one had the legs to bring back the powerful diesel. After growing his gap to an unassailable 30 seconds, O’Brien had ample time to sit up and celebrate an impressive victory of brains and brawn on Raglan Parade.

“It was just luck,” O’Brien said modestly about winning as an individual rider. “The way the first part of the race panned out, they couldn’t get the right combination with [the major teams], so it meant there was a smaller breakaway.

“It forced them to control a bit more, allowing the individuals get closer to the endgame. Once you get to 100km to go, it’s game on, and it comes down to whoever’s got the legs.”

O’Brien said he needed to make sure the race didn’t come down to a sprint, even when he and Sens got clear.

“Everyone knows I’m the slowest guy in the bike race, so I had to give it some beans up there and drop Conor, or I’d be racing for second. Rapt I was able to get away and engage the old diesel mode.”

Behind the winner, Sens hung on solo to take second place. Saunders led the chasers home to snag third after a spirited title defence.

Tyler Tomkinson (ARA Skip Capital) was the Avalon Airport Best Young Rider. O’Brien will wear the NRS leader’s jersey as leader of the AusCycling National Road Series.

Results

  1. Mark O'BRIEN 6h24:05
  2. Connor SENS (St George Continental) +31
  3. Tristan SAUNDERS (Team BridgeLane) +50
  4. Alastair CHRISTIE-JOHNSTON (CCACHE x Par Küp) +50
  5. Fergus BROWNING (Trinity Racing) +50
  6. Iven BENNETT (Van D'am Racing pb Butterfields) +50
  7. William MOLONEY-MORTON (DUDA) +50
  8. Tyler TOMKINSON (ARA Skip Capital) +50
  9. Brendon DAVIDS (Villawood) +50
  10. Jackson MEDWAY (Team BridgeLane) +1:01

For full results, visit the AusCycling results page.


Feature photo: Jean-Pierre Ronco (Image Writer Photography)

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