More perfect weather for the 1996 Australian National Men's road race, held over some 50 laps (200km) of the same approximately 4km course as the women's race. Clear skies, no wind and considerable more spectators greeted the 92 starters, with the race getting underway at 9:30am on Saturday 21 April.
Two riders had the dubious honour be dropped on lap 1, and on the next lap another 6 had fallen off the back as the pace began to rise. Nathan O'Neill, winner of the ITT, had his 30 minutes of fame leading the next 4 laps 10-30 seconds off the front. His efforts were a trifle optimistic as the bunch was all together again on lap 7, led by the red white and blue jerseys of the Giant-AIS squad.
The next 12 laps well and truly thrashed the chaff out of the real contenders. There were several short breaks by 2-3 riders which never got very far. A couple would break away, a few would try to bridge the gap, small groups of chasers would form to drag up the remainders, the pace would rise, and more and more who were unable to keep up dropped off the back. Prominent in these breaks were Nick Gates, Kristen Lewis, Andrian Nolan-Halliday, Matt White, Dean Rogers, Rodney McGee and Eddie Salas.
At lap 20 there was a moment of quiet which enabled a leading group of about 20 to form, with 10s to another group of 15, and the rest now out of contention. This relative calm was swiftly broken as several suicide victims launched themselves off the front for a brief moment of glory as the Liverpool City and AIS teams drove the train and paved the way for a serious break by Matthew Keenan, Nick Gates, and Dean Rogers. Somewhere along the way Matt White broke his chain and was out of the race, and since lunch was approaching it was time to go and check out the duck marshals.
Duck MarshalBack at the race the bunch seemed to have given up the idea of chasing, allowing Gates, Rogers and Keenan to hold a lead of 1'20" over the next several laps. At lap 30 Eddie Salas began to bridge across and was shortly joined by Damian McDonald and Rodney McGee, with only a few in the bunch able to respond. Instead of all six coming together, there was now a shakeout which decided the final outcome of the race.
A position given to children on stretches of road race circuit running between lakes. The marshal's duty is to scare waterfowl such as ducks, ibis, geese and black swans off the road before the approach of the peleton, by means of a whistle, red flag or loud vocal signal. Such activity prevents the needless bifurcation of protected species such as the black swan by deep-rimmed wheels travelling at 45km/h.
Nick Gates stayed at the front, and was joined by Salas and McDonald. Matthew Keenan dropped 40 seconds back, and was joined by Brett Dennis and Andrian Nolan-Halliday who had come up from the main bunch. Dean Rogers was in no man's land another minute back, and then there was a big gap to the survivors who included Jay Sweet, Paul Brosnan, Marcel Gono, Luke Weir, Jason Pearce and Peter Clayton. Rodney McGee was out of contention on the sidelines.
With 7 to go it was Gates, Salas and McDonald, with Gates looking comfortable and the other two hanging in but doing their work. Up on the top corner someone's cheer squad had set up a full champagne lunch complete with ice cold silver bucket in full view of the riders. As time went on and a succession of bottles were upended their encouragement grew louder and less specific.
A minute after the leading three came the next three, with the survivors another full three and a half minutes behind. Four laps to go and the leaders were almost in sight of them on the long straight, with the gap to the second trio grown to 2 minutes.
The crowd favoured Eddie in a sprint but at two to go Nick Gates had other ideas and went off the front for a 20 second lead. Damian McDonald gave chase but was unable to catch Gates over the next lap. From the finish at was a clear 30 seconds between the two as they could be through the trees seen whipping down the hill at the back of the course. Salas was content to sit it out and so they finished: Nick Gates, 20 seconds to Damian McDonald, then another 30 to Eddie Salas. Matthew Keenan won the sprint for fourth.
Asked about the course before the medal presentation the affable Gates was blunt: "It was horrible. Too many corners, too many laps and that hill seemed to get bigger and bigger." Eddie Salas announced that he would retire the next day, and all three were cheered by the decent crowd. All in all, a great day's racing with only 21 survivors out of 93 starters and no major accidents.