The Under 23 Men’s Road Race came down to a 2 up sprint, but before the dramatic finish, 95 percent of the race had been led solo by either Rylee Field (GPM Stulz) or Chris Harper (State of Matter/MAAP). Their brave efforts netted them rewards, with both the KOM and sprint jersey for Field and 6th place overall for Harper, but for Field especially the real reward was getting the support from all around him.
?The crowd was sensational, I?ve never experienced anything like it. I know it?s not as big as some of the other races, but it was sensational. The last time I ever had any mention like that was an Under 17 D grade race at the Tour of Tamworth. That was the last time anyone mentioned my name. Since I?ve gone to the NRS, pretty much nothing has really happened and today, I won both jerseys and to have that (Matt Keenan calling my name) every lap? I can?t even describe how sensational that was, such a buzzing experience.?
Field made the attack on the first lap and was initially joined by strong climber Jason LEA (Physiohealth Focus), but after a few laps in the move, Lea dropped back to the peloton. ?It was the second or third lap and one of his teammates on the side said ?Don?t ride the break, go back to the pelo?, so he sat up before he got to the top of the climb. It is what it is, I put my head down, tail up and tried to stay away as long as possible.?
Field survived as the lone leader until he was overtaken by Chris Harper with just under five laps remaining, by which stage he had done 85 kilometres at the front of the race, the majority of them alone. Field?s journey to reach this point had flown under the radar, as he has only been riding in the NRS for a year, but Field has taken on Trent Wilson?s (GPM Stulz?s DS) philosophy that hard work pays off. ?Trent Wilson, you hear the stories about how he wasn?t necessarily the best, performance-wise, when he was younger, but his hard work ethic got him where he went, to race the Giro. I really try and take that on board.?
Finally Field wanted to thank the people who had helped him reach this point. ?It was pretty emotional, having success is good, but doing it with your team, your DS, your coach, it?s a different feeling entirely. Not many people know, but this time last year, I decided to get back into riding and give it a really solid crack. From where I?ve come, and the help I?ve had along the way, I?ve never had that sort of help before and I?m just so grateful for everyone that helped me along the way.?
The other man that lit up the race was State of Matter/MAAP?s Chris Harper who took over the lead from Field with 45 kilometres to go, and at stages, looked like he might be able to last to the finish as he steadily built his lead. The team went into the men?s Under 23 road race with a strong hand, with director Damian Harris saying before the race that the team would use its number aggressively. Harper explained the tactic behind his attack.
?We wanted to take a bit of pressure off our team leaders, and put it on Avanti and Lucas Hamilton by getting one of us up the road and making them chase. It sort of slowed up a bit, I hit it and got enough of a gap, so I committed to it.? Harper initially had Zane Hunter (Physiohealth Focus) for company, but dropped him and then Field once he caught the early escapee. ?I was hoping that we would get up to Rylee together, and then have another few laps, it would have been nice to have another person to roll turns with.?
Harper?s gap grew further as the leader on the road, but the main chasing group began to work hard to pull him back, with 20 kilometres remaining he had 2 minutes advantage, and with 10 to go it was down to 51 seconds. ?I was hoping that the group was big enough and they were hitting each other and playing games, but from the sound of things, once they had that gap, they were drilling it, and those two (Chris and Lucas Hamilton) were always going to be stronger than just me.? As he rounded the turn onto Mt Buninyong Rd, a bit over half the way up the climb, he was joined by the duo, and he didn?t quite have the legs to follow the pair after spending much of the day solo. ?They came around me on the corner just after the first bit (about halfway up), where there?s a little bit of a downhill and I held the wheel, but once they picked it up again on the steeper section, I could only do so much, and I just tried to get over the top and hang on for third.?
He was picked by the chase group just behind and managed to hold on for 6th, his best result in the nationals to date. Harper said, ?It?s nice to have done well, but of course it would have been better to get on the podium, or even take the win. Positive signs for the year ahead with State of Matter/MAAP, we?ve got a lot of strong guys, so hopefully it?s going to be a good year with a lot of results. I had two mechanics working on my bike yesterday, the team?s been great, I can?t thank them enough.?
In a memorable edition of the Under 23 Men?s Road Race, the performances of Chris Harper and Rylee Field will be some of those feats that stick in the mind the longest.
Check out Fishy?s podcast Brakedownpodcast for more great interviews, race previews and reports.