Sport Luke Plapp wins nationals road race after COVID-19 scare
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Luke Plapp wins nationals road race after COVID-19 scare

Luke Plapp has overcome a COVID-19 setback to claim his first Australian road race championship. Photo: Auscycling/AAP
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First-year professional cyclist Luke Plapp has overcome a COVID-19 setback to claim his first Australian road race championship.

Plapp rode a smart race on Sunday at Buninyong, near Ballarat, to take out the 185.6-kilometre men’s elite road race in hot conditions.

The 21-year-old had to miss last weekend’s Bay Classic series in Geelong and also was unable to defend his Australian time trial crown on Wednesday.

The new signing for top British team Ineos Grenadiers was stuck in Tasmania as the close contact of a COVID-19 case.

But he more than made up for those absences on Sunday with a well-executed ride.

“I just called the team overseas then and it’s pretty awesome to hear from them. I can’t really process what just happened,” he said.

“I couldn’t ask for a better start, first race in the new colours.

“I dreamed of this one for a while. It was a shame to miss the TT, but to make up for it here in the road race, nothing beats it.”

With about 30 kilometres left, Plapp attacked the chase group that included fellow favourites Luke Durbridge and Chris Harper.

He quickly bridged to solo leader James Whelan and took the lead on the last of the 16 climbs up Mt Buninyong on the testing 11.6-kilometre circuit.

Plapp showed he had learned his lesson from last year’s race, when he attacked too early and blew up well before the finish.

“I don’t like being a bit of a dick out there, just sitting on, but I played the cards and waited and I just can’t believe it paid off,” he told SBS.

Plapp beat Whelan by 45 seconds, with Brendan Johnston third at one minute 50 seconds.

Kane Richards was either at the front of the race or among the key riders throughout and deservedly took fourth place, leading home the chase group of six riders at 3:13.

Durbridge took seventh place and Harper was ninth.

It was brutal race of attrition, with only 21 of the 94 starters finishing.

Two-time defending champion Cam Meyer and time-trial champion Rohan Dennis were among those who did not finish.

Earlier on Sunday, Tasmanian Nicole Frain scored the biggest win of her career when she took out the elite women’s road race.

The 29-year-old launched a perfectly timed solo attack with three kilometres left and stayed clear to the finish.

Nicole Frain was all smiles after winning her first national road cycling title. Photo: Auscycling

Veteran Australian cycling coach Donna Rae-Szalinski, who has worked with Frain, said the win was rich reward for persistence.

“She has faced adversity that so many people would have given up on,” Rae-Szalinski said.

“She’s had bad crashes, she’s had so many struggles.

“She has addressed everything that needs to be done, worked her butt off, and this is a good lesson … that people who really want it and are willing to work hard, can have success like she just did today.”

Frain made the most of outstanding teamwork from leading domestic squad Roxsolt, which set up the race for her with a series of moves off the front.

In the end it came down to a select bunch of 13 riders that featured Brown, who won Wednesday’s time-trial crown, Rachel Neylan and newly crowned criterium champion Ruby Roseman-Gannon.

After a disappointing eighth in the time-trial, Frain reset and knew what she had to do at the end of the road race.

“I thought ‘if I just get a little bit of a gap, I’m all in, it’s now or never,” she said.

“The gap opened and I was like ‘just don’t time-trial like you did on Wednesday, and you’ll be fine’.”

Pre-race favourite Grace Brown won the reduced bunch sprint four seconds later to finish runner-up for the second straight year.

Alyssa Polites finished third to also win the under-23 category.

-AAP