Tasmania could claim home-state success in the Oceania championships elite men’s road race with Chris Harper winning for Andrew Christie-Johnston’s Hobart-based team.
The UCI continental outfit that helped launch the careers of Richie Porte, Will Clarke and a host of mainland WorldTour graduates dominated the 158-kilometre race to set up Harper’s victory.
“I love Tassie and I’ll be happy to come back,” said the 23-year-old, of Adelaide.
“The team started here and it’s nice to come to its home and get a win.”
Asked if an Oceania title was his biggest win Harper added: “I haven’t won many others so, yeah, I’d go with this one.”
On another day of rapidly changing weather patterns in Railton, the lead group consistently fluctuated in size until half a dozen were left to fight out the last of six undulating laps around the Bridle Track and Kimberley.
Ultimately, Harper’s biggest threat came from Melbourne’s James Whelan who finished second to claim the under-23 crown four months after narrowly missing the Tour of Tasmania title just up the road in Devonport.
The 22-year-old finished two seconds behind Harper’s time of 4:08:25 followed by fellow Victorians Cyrus Monk (Australian under-23 road race champion) and Harper’s teammate Jason Lea (both +0:10), who completed the under-23 podium.
Brisbane’s Ryan Thomas (+2:47) landed the elite silver medal while a seventh place finish for Launceston’s Oliver Martin (+2:58) earned him the bronze to make up for a severe case of cramp.
Hobart’s Rio Olympian Scott Bowden was the second Tasmanian home in 11th (+4:41).
“The course was pretty hard and with the wind added it wasn’t easy,” Harper said.
“Sometimes the sun was out, then it was raining and windy so it was really tough and made for an exciting race.
“We had myself and Jason and we were trying to get rid of Cyrus but we couldn’t and then James Whelan came back to us and it was just cat and mouse at the end there.
“I cannot sprint at all but fortunately I was in a good position.
“One of the Drapac boys went early and I was able to go with him and get the win.
“We’re about to go away to Europe so it was good to see where legs are at.”
The race witnessed plenty of early attacks but after much huffing and bluffing, the lead group eventually settled on nine riders with two laps to go, with Martin, Bowden and Legana’s Josh Wilson the most prominent of the Tasmanian contenders.
Gigante conquers continent
Victorian Sarah Gigante upgraded her 2017 silver for 2018 gold in the Oceania under-19 women’s race.
A year after finishing behind Hobart’s Madeleine Fasnacht and a couple of days after coming third to Devonport’s Anya Louw in the time trial, Gigante savoured some Tasmanian success.
The 17-year-old with six Australian titles this year won the 79-kilometre race in 1:31:31 from New Zealanders Jenna Merrick (+0:47) and Connie O’Brien (+2:07).
Louw came fifth (+2:09) as New Zealand recorded seven of the top nine finishers.
“That was really hard but it’s pretty special and I did not expect to win,” Gigante said.
“We stayed together for the first two laps and I attacked going uphill. No one was going and I could hear people puffing and I thought that was a good time to go.
“Three came with me but then we broke apart on a descent and in the end there was just one other (Merrick). We worked well together and then with 6km to go I just went and time trialled to home.
“I did well at nationals but I was not sure how I would compare against other countries so with Anya winning the time trial it’s cool that Australia can beat the Kiwis.”
Gigante, who was soon in deep conversation with national road technical director Brad McGee, hoped her national and continental successes would mark the start of a big year for her.
“Next I’ve got the Victorian road series and National Road Series then track worlds and hopefully road worlds but I’ve also got to finish Year 12 which is probably most important.”