Credit: Cycling Australia/Con Chronis
Jarrad Drizners confirmed his dominance on the Australian scene with a win in the Under 23 mens road race at the Australian national championships, out-sprinting Sebastian Berwick (St George Continental) to win the 139.2 kilometre race around Buninyong.
The South Australian followed the attack of Berwick up the final climb and then worked with him into the finish where Drizners was the overwhelming favourite to win the sprint, which he duly convincingly as he gapped the smaller climber into the line.
“I’ve got lots of emotions, I’ve been wanting this race for a long time,” said Drizners after the finish. “Last year I was fifth and I’ve come back for more. The TT didn’t go my way, the crit really didn’t go my way and to bounce back here and come out to win is really special.
“My parents are here, my ex-team Inform are here, everyone’s full of emotion and it’s great to pull it off in new colours for Hagens Berman Axeon.”
It was far from a straightforward task, as a solo rider, Elliot Schultz (Memil CCN Pro Cycling) on the day still had a gap of three and a half minutes with three laps (35 kilometres) left on the chasing peloton, containing Drizners and a number of other pre-race favourites. Explosive accelerations, some of them from Drizners himself, started to bridge the gap and eventually they managed to get Schultz in sight on the final ascent of Mt Buninyong.
“I wasn’t so much nervous as frustrated in a way,” said Drizners. “I just wanted to get racing. There were a lot of team tactics and me being an individual makes it tricky, I sort of had to play my cards right.
“I launched, about halfway and saw there was a split in the peloton. I tried the same thing with four to go, then other guys did it with three, two and one to go. It sort of formed the race for me so I could just follow.
“Got over the last climb with me and Seb Berwick. We both pretty much didn’t have a team so good camaraderie there. I just had the better sprint and walked away with the win.”
The 20-year-old had been a member of the track team with an eye towards competing at the Olympics, but has brought more of a focus on the road, which has seen him reap the rewards as the overall winner of the National Road Series for 2019, an overseas contract with premier development team Hagens Berman Axeon and now the national title.
The transition from a track rider to promising youngster to perennial favourite has been a quick one for Drizners, testament to the work he’s put in during the interim.
“I got a new coach in Pat Lane which has been really good,” said Drizners. “We’re good mates and have a good relationship. We spent a lot of time together focusing on the little things.
“I’ve been focusing on my climbing and have lost a little weight which is important for a race like this, it’s probably about 3000 metres of vert. But not losing the sprint is important as well, I was happy to get around and still have a good sprint finish.”
Drizners heads over to Hagens Berman Axeon and looks set for a heady season with some big races, but first a Tour Down Under start beckons with Uni-SA.
“I’m looking forward to soaking everything up this season,” said Drizners. “Stepping up a level and learning as much as I can, a level above the NRS and Belgium stints that I’ve done in the last few years.”
A superb ride from Seb Berwick shouldn’t be overlooked as the St George Continental rider forced the winning move but had the misfortune of finding himself covered by one of the strongest sprinters in the peloton.
“If you told me at the start of the day that I would have got second, I would have been half content with that like I am now,” said Berwick. “It’s a good race and Jarrad’s a good rider, he torched me in the sprint. I couldn’t have done much more.”
“I dropped everyone except him, he was just stronger than me on the day I guess. It’s a climb that suits him a bit better but I gave myself a good chance out there and got second.”
Alastair Christie-Johnston (Team Bridgelane) rounded out the podium with a fine ride for third.
Among the hard luck stories of the race, Rudy Porter (Inform TM Insight MAKE) and Tyler Lindorff (Team Bridgelane) both suffered crashes but fought their way back to finish sixth and fourth respectively.
Earlier in the race, an early break of eight established a sizeable lead that stretched out to three and half minutes at its peak. The group featured Tom Benton (Inform TM Insight MAKE), Tom Bolton (Oliver’s Real Food Racing), Schultz, Ben Metcalfe (Team Bridgelane), Calan White (Balmoral Cycling Club), Daniel Simpson (CCS), Liam Walsh (Futuro Pro Racing) and Connor Reardon (St George Continental).
White was the first to attack during the fourth lap out of twelve and got a decent gap away before being joined from behind and then dropped by Schultz. Schultz continued to press out his advantage over his former breakaway companions and the peloton.
With the three laps remaining, the gap looked almost too big to be bridged, but a splintering of the peloton and a monster turn from Jensen Plowright (Team Bridgelane) put the chasers back in contention as they plunged the lead down to just over a minute with two laps (23 kilometres) left.
Schultz was caught on the final ascent, and couldn’t hold on to the fresher chasers, ending up finishing eighth as Drizners and co. powered away.
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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger