Luke Plapp was the only rider for INEOS Grenadiers in the Australian Men's Road Race at the National Championships, but being without teammates didn't stop him from winning the race and earning the green and gold jersey for 2022.
In the long race around the Mt Buninyong circuit, Kane Richards (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) and Jean-Pierre van der Merwe (Team Bridgelane) set out as the early break. The race was a slow burn, as the duo escaped to a five and a half minute lead with about 100km to go.
Time trial champion Rohan Dennis did a power of work in support of Jumbo-Visma teammate Chris Harper, and brought the gap down with 80 kilometres to go.
Sam Jenner (Team Bridgelane) and Mark O'Brien (Inform TMX Make) briefly tried to animate the race, but they were not allowed much room by the small peloton, and were kept in check.
As the pace stayed high, the peloton dwindled, and a quintet of James Whelan (Team Bridgelane), Jenner, O'Brien, Chris Hamilton (Team DSM) and Brendan Johnston attempted to attack, but with 50 kilometres to go, the race was all together, or as best you can call that with 15 riders in contention.
Luke Durbridge tried to attack, but Whelan went off the front with 33km to go, in the attempt of a long solo breakaway.
It proved to be a decisive move for Whelan, who would not see the main bunch again.
He counted down the laps in his solo attack, hanging out just a minute ahead of the group. Plapp was the next to launch, attacking with 30km to go, and initially taking a big chunk out of Whelan's lead.
It then seemed for a while as though Whelan was going to be able to stay away. He had worked hard with his Team Bridgelane companions to create the situation where the bunch had dwindled, and he could go it alone.
And so the stage was set for a dramatic finale.
Plapp, racing in his new INEOS Grenadiers colours, solo in this race, but racing for one of the biggest teams in world cycling. In front of him, the beneficiary of numbers in the race, team tactics and perfect execution. A small domestic team that looked to have done everything right.
With 20km to go, Plapp was 40 seconds behind Whelan, and it was clear that the winner would be one of the two.
As they approached the famed Mt Buninyong for the final time, Plapp had drawn to within 12 seconds of Whelan. And then, on the steep section of the course, the inevitable happened. Plapp accelerated to, and past Whelan, and extended his lead as he crested the hill, knowing that as long as he stayed upright, he would be crowned national champion.
Plapp rode the final kilometres as hard as he could, driving home his advantage until 1500m to the finish, when he smiled for the camera and waved to the car that was supporting him with his supplies for the day.
And Plapp, at just 21 years. of age, and still eligible for junior racing, raised his arms and was crowned the Elite Men's National Champion of Australia for 2022.