National road championship
Formidable trio: Richie Porte, Simon Gerrans and Cadel Evans on the podium in Buninyong near Ballarat on Sunday. Photo: Justin Whitelock
It was an image that showcased how far Australian cycling has developed at home: Simon Gerrans, Cadel Evans and Richie Porte standing on the podium of Sunday's national road championship at Buninyong, Victoria.
As Allan Peiper, Evans' team manager, told Fairfax Media after Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) won the 183.6-kilometre race from Evans (BMC) and Porte (Sky) when asked if he knew of a better championship podium in Australia: ''I don't think so - a Tour de France winner (Evans), Milan-San Remo winner (Gerrans) and Paris-Nice winner (Porte) … We are doing well.''
For Gerrans, 33, the only Australian to win a stage in all three grand tours and a yellow jersey wearer in last year's tour, the result marked his second senior national title win in three years.
In good company: Simon Gerrans crosses the line ahead of Cadel Evans and Richie Porte. Photo: Justin Whitelock
He acknowledged the collective significance of the podium. ''When you look at the depth of the field and you look at these two guys standing by my side, this could be any race, anywhere around the world,'' he said. ''It really shows the strength of Australian cycling.''
Gerrans' team director, Matt White, agreed: ''Everyone knows Cadel, so to realise someone has beaten Cadel and someone who had the yellow jersey as well last year, and Richie Porte, one of the best tour riders and best workers in the world, it's a dream podium.''
Better still, the race was one of the greatest one-day bike events seen in Australia, considering how the big and small teams (in numbers and status) and the famous and not so famous all tried to ride to their strengths - from powerhouses such as Australia's only World Tour team Orica-GreenEDGE and newly-titled second division Drapac team to the National Road Series teams such as Avanti and Budget Forklifts.
And how those riders who still had the gumption, strength and daring to attack entertained the estimated 23,000 people at the race as the main 17-rider break, which included Gerrans teammates Simon Clarke and Luke Durbridge, were caught just before the 18th of the 18 laps of 10.1km. The fireworks on the bell lap were ignited with a brave attack by Darren Lapthorne (Drapac) and then Mark O'Brien (Avanti), the latter hotly pursued by Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEDGE) whose own attack near the top of the main climb created the final four-man break with Gerrans, Evans and Porte - the latter two badly outnumbered, with Evans having no teammates and Porte one in an impressive Nathan Earle.
Meyer may have missed a medal, placing fourth, but his commitment to throw every ounce of fight to support Gerrans was golden. Meyer's attacks after the four-rider group formed forced Evans and Porte to chase and use up vital energy. Likewise, when Porte attacked, Meyer's chase, which was followed by Evans, allowed Gerrans to follow the wheels while encouraging Meyer to keep working.
For Gerrans, the scenario unfolded perfectly as they reached the last kilometre with Meyer leading from Evans.
Gerrans, on Evans's wheel and the best sprinter of the four, knew Porte was behind him and anticipated his effort to break free that came with about 800 metres to go.
Gerrans, his energies saved thanks to Meyer's ride, flew by Porte with Evans the nearest threat, but in reality without an answer to his sprint. Gerrans could not hide his joy as he stood on the podium afterwards.