BUNINYONG, Australia (CT) – This time last year Cameron Meyer stepped off the podium, composed himself, then addressed the waiting media. “I’ll try not to cry too much,” he said, barely stifling a sob.
He’d just finished third in the Australian Nationals road race, having gone so close to finally taking an elusive win. In 11 visits to Buninyong he’d been second, third, fourth (twice) and sixth.
This Sunday afternoon, 12 months on from that agonising defeat, Meyer was overcome with a different emotion: the utter elation and relief of a man who’d finally cracked the code.
Meyer had finally won the Australian road race title.
“I don’t think words can describe how I feel right now,” Meyer said. “Last year was so emotional and actually about three k to go [today] I knew I was probably going to win it and emotion actually nearly took over me … I had to hold it together.
“It means so much to me. I’ve seen my brother win it; I fell in love with this race. 12 years ago I was fourth in my first elite title around here and yeah, it’s just a surreal moment.”
Meyer had been part of an imposing lead group of nine riders that came together with two laps remaining in the 16-lap race around Mt. Buninyong. Also in the group, a who’s-who of Australian WorldTour talent: Nathan Haas (Cofidis), Jay McCarthy (Bora Hansgrohe), Chris Harper (Jumbo-Visma), Jai Hindley (Sunweb), 2013 winner Luke Durbridge (Mitchelton-Scott) and Lucas Hamilton (Mitchelton-Scott). Also there, defending champion Michael Freiberg (Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) and Marcus Culey (Sapura) from the early break.
In the two laps that followed, every rider tried to get away at least once. Tensions were high in what was a truly world-class group.
“I mean, I was nervous — I’m sure we all were,” Meyer said. “You could make one mistake and there was a good enough group out there that you’d pay for those mistakes. So I had to pick my moment well.”
Meyer’s teammate Hamilton had his moment first. Despite being in the day’s first breakaway — with Hindley and Mark O’Brien (InForm) — Hamilton attacked hard on the penultimate time up Mt. Buninyong and opened up a significant gap. That move hadn’t been part of the original plan.
“Originally I was meant to wait until the last lap,” Hamilton said later. “I’m climbing alright at the moment, so I was quite confident I’d be one of the strongest climbers here. But I saw an opportunity there. I think it was Jay McCarthy [who] attacked and I saw that everyone was maybe hurting a bit, so I went.
“But it was really hard around the back end of the course and as soon as I knew I only had 14 seconds, I sort of didn’t push too hard because I was going to get caught.”
Hamilton did get caught, just as he started the final lap. And with that the stage was set for a grand showdown on the final ascent.
Meyer was the next to go, putting in a devastating big-ring attack on the lower slopes of the mountain and opening an impressive lead.
“There was an opportunity for me to go on that last climb,” Meyer said. “I think something kicked over me that I was like ‘I don’t want to come back for a 13th time and have to have the pressure!’”
Behind Meyer, the presence of Durbridge and Hamilton meant that any chase would lack cohesion. And so it was that Meyer was able to extend his advantage to most of a minute as he approached the closing kilometres.
Meyer reached the finishing straight with enough time to stop pedalling, soak up the applause, and savour the moment — a moment 12 years in the making.
Behind Meyer, the attacks continued into the closing kilometres. Hamilton was again able to get clear, and crossed the line in second place, 56 seconds behind Meyer. Mitchelton-Scott had sewn up gold and silver, just hours after their sister team took gold and bronze.
“I think when I was out there by myself, I sort of saved a little bit because I knew that coming round we may still need numbers in the final,” Hamilton said. “And I actually felt pretty good. I didn’t feel good all day but the last couple laps, I felt like I still had a bit left. So it’s an amazing result.”
Behind Hamilton, Culey too was able to find further reserves of energy. He’d been leading the race from lap 6 — with Nick Schultz (Mitchelton-Scott), and then with Schultz, Jason Lea and Cam Roberts (GPM-Stultz). When the WorldTour riders came across in the closing laps and the action heated up, Culey was dropped several times. He fought back every time, and then, amazingly, still had enough to get clear in the final kilometre.
“I was sort of cramping a bit on the climb on the last two laps,” Culey said. “So I was probably lucky it was a bit of a headwind in that first section and the pace wasn’t really on. And then I got gapped just over the last lap and managed to ride back with Harper and then it was all on for the finish.”
Culey crossed the line in third place, 11 seconds behind Hamilton and just ahead of the group he’d been in.
For Meyer, today is the fourth time he’s donned a green and gold jersey at the Australian Road Nationals. But this one is certainly the most special.
“I’ve had the time trial twice and the criterium but this is the one that I really wanted and it’s been a long time coming,” he said. “Everyone asks me all my stories over the 12 years and now I can tell [them]: this is the best story of the lot.”