Tristan Saunders reigns supreme at Tour of Gippsland, extends NRS lead
Team BridgeLane’s Tristan Saunders has extended his AusCycling National Road Series (NRS) lead following a spirited double-stage win finish to the Tour of Gippsland.
Saunders lept into general classification contention with a determined bridge to the breakaway on Stage 3, which laid the foundation for his Pakenham Mazda Yellow Jersey victory.
The 23-year-old’s sprint proved too much handle on both the third stage and Stage 4, stomping his way to his second NRS win for 2023 following his solo Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic triumph back in February.
“It was another good day out on the track, super fun racing. Bit faster this direction, it felt pretty nice. It was awesome to go back-to-back with a pretty perfect leadout from the boys there in the end,” Saunders said.
“The tight corner from yesterday was a lot more flowing today and you sort of just glided up the hill with the momentum and then all the way around the back it was super fast so we just sat in and conserved and had a go at the end.
“They (CCACHE x Par Küp) have a really good sprint squad here so they were pretty keen to go for the sprint I think and also with ARA losing some time yesterday, their best option was Declan with the sprint. So, both those guys were pretty motivated to bring it back which worked for us in the end, we didn’t have to chase too hard because we had the gap on GC. They had to do the hard work for us and we just benefitted off it.
“The last 10 laps or whatever when those boys picked up we just sat in the bunch nicely, so we could conserve the legs for the majority of the race there and then the boys just unleashed the power at the end – the train got moving.”
Saunders now holds the men’s NRS overall leader jersey by a mammoth 550 points with two stops remaining at Cycle Sunshine Coast in October and Tour of Tasmania in November.
“I’m glad to score some more points, it’s always nice to have a bit of a big buffer,” Saunders said.
“It’s nice racing with the jersey and you don’t feel the pressure too much when you’ve got a bit more a gap.”
Team BridgeLane continue to stamp their authority over the NRS men’s peloton and now have a near-unassailable at the top to Cycling Development Foundation in second and ARA Skip Capital in third.
Zac Marriage maintains a slim hold of the NRS Young Rider jersey over breakthrough sensation Jackson Medway (Tandem Co x Futuro Pro Cycling). This comes despite Marriage missing the Tour of Gippsland while racing Tour de l’Avenir for the ARA Australian Cycling Team.
It was a red-hot welcome back to NRS racing for the men’s peloton on Friday afternoon in Rhyll, with the opening stage criterium aggressive from start to finish. Few, if any, laps went without an attack, with teams CCACHE x Par Küp, Team BridgeLane, and ARA Skip Capital working hard all stage to prevent any chance of a breakaway snapping the elastic band to the peloton.
They were successful until three laps to go, when Jackson Medway (Tandem Co x Futuro Pro Cycling) finally achieved some separation from the peloton, along with Team BridgeLane’s Alastair Christie-Johnston the only rider able to stay with him. Medway held off a chasing peloton that was moving at incredible speed. Still, the pair managed to hold off despite Medway prematurely posting up for the win on the penultimate lap after misreading the lap board. Christie-Johnston capitalised on Medway’s mistake, and after sitting on the wheel for the final two laps, made a move on the back straight in the last 600m to stay away for the win.
New Zealand junior Reef Roberts was the best of the Santini U19 National Road Series field, finishing 14th in the main bunch.
“Bloody nice actually. Didn’t quite expect it after having an issue with my gears at about eight laps to go and so I was on the side sorting through them and it turned out to be actually something else by the time I got back into the bunch and started getting back into it,” Christie-Johnston said.
“Saw something in the air – looked like a two-lapper, but it was a one, super-faded. But anyway, I thought I’d just keep going, probably helped in the end because I just kept going all out and didn’t look back. Sprinted out, posted up like a fool but got going and really happy we stayed in because he did a little turn and then it was my duty to keep going with no team and held on for second. Happy with that,” Medway said.
A 17.8km individual time trial greeted the NRS men for Stage 2, with the result blowing the name of Jackson Medway (Tandem Co x Futuro Pro Cycling) onto everyone’s lips for good following his impressive Stage 1 performance. Medway confirmed the hype around the Phillip Island GP Circuit, winning by a whopping 56 seconds in a time of 22:07.80 ahead of Alastair Christie-Johnston (Team BridgeLane), and 57 seconds to third-placed Declan Trezise (ARA Skip Capital).
Kiwi Reef Roberts won the U19 category in a time of 23:54.40, good enough for 16th overall.
“Really happy after yesterday with a little bit of an early celebration but this one (I) had no clue where I was, just following the guy in front. Didn’t catch him … was dead at the end and came to my coach and he let me know the news,” Medway said.
A new wearer of the Pakenham Mazda Yellow Jersey meant all of the pressure to win and hold the race at bay was firmly on the shoulders of a solo Jackson Medway (Tandem Co x Futuro Pro Cycling), who entered the Stage 3 road race around an anti-clockwise Phillip Island GP Circuit with a 56-second lead. ARA Skip Capital and Team BridgeLane used their numbers against Medway at every opportunity, placing the 18-year-old under serious pressure to close some big moves and in the process, a lot of energy.
Constant attacks were being fired, but it was Dalton Stretton (Team BridgeLane) who kicked off the decisive breakaway that would go to the line. The initial group of seven riders that went away under the impetus of the Tasmanian contained Boris Clark (Cycling Development Foundation), Louis Perriman (Criterion Racing), Sam Hill (Blackshaw Racing), Joshua Ludman, Leigh Phillips, and leading U19 Reef Roberts.
An inevitable attack from NRS overall leader and fourth overall Tristan Saunders (Team BridgeLane) eventually came from a heavily decimated bunch and a worked over Medway couldn’t follow. That left Saunders, Hill’s teammate Oli Stenning, who sat fifth overall, and Clark’s teammate Mitchell McGovern to successfully bridge to the breakaway. The breakaway 10 continued to stretch their advantage over the coming laps, with the gap nearly hitting two minutes at its peak.
Coming into the finish straight, it was Saunders who showed why he leads the NRS, outsprinting Cycling Development Foundation duo Clark and McGovern. What was left of the peloton would finish at +1:58 behind Saunders, leading to a shake-up on the general classification, with Saunders inheriting the Pakenham Mazda Yellow Jersey ahead of the final stage, followed by Stenning (+9), and Clark (+12).
Roberts continued to impress among senior peers, finishing 7th and keeping his 100 per cent record intact in the Santini U19 National Road Series Tour of Gippsland win column.
“It was a really tough day. Double days are always hard. It was an awesome ride by the whole team. It took a bit to work over young Jackson but after a few attempts we finally cracked him. Awesome team performance,” Saunders said.
The NRS men were off for an early start on a clockwise Phillip Island GP Circuit. An early breakaway featuring Tynan Shannon, Tali Lane-Welsh (CCACHE x Par Küp) and Mackenzie Edwardson (Blackshaw Racing) went away, with the trio’s advantage reaching 90 seconds at one point, forcing Team BridgeLane to take control of the chase from the front of the bunch. The gap continued to grow until ARA Skip Capital and CCACHE x Par Küp called BridgeLane’s bluff and took control over the chase themselves. Lane-Welsh was instructed not to roll through in the break from his team, as CCACHE x Par Küp rolled the dice knowing sprinter Kurt Eather was ready and waiting.
As the chasing teams worked tirelessly to bring the gap down in the closing laps, Team BridgeLane were waiting for the perfect moment to make a decisive move. Edwardson was shelled first from the break and then Shannon and Lane Welsh were caught on the final lap. It was then the dominant boys in blue who moved in to retake control in the final kilometres of the race to lead out their team leader, and yesterday’s stage winner, Tristan Saunders. Saunders easily won the sprint from the bunch, taking home stage honours and the overall Tour of Gippsland for 2023. ARA Skip Capital’s Trezise earned his second podium of the tour in second, followed by Saunders’ teammate Elliot Schultz.
Boris Clark (Cycling Development Foundation) would finish second overall at +22, with Oli Stenning (Blackshaw Racing) at +26. Team BridgeLane’s Dalton Stretton took home the points classificaton and Young Rider jersey, while Lane Welsh won the KOM classification. Team BridgeLane were clear winners in the NRS teams classification once again.
Kalan Tucker (Butterfields p/b Van D’am Racing) broke Reef Roberts streak in the U19 category, winning Stage 4 from his handy finish of 12th. But it was the standout Kiwi Roberts who prevailed overall, with his winning advantage +2:21 to 2023 Santini U19 National Road Series champion Levi Hone.
Pictures: Con Chronis