All the stars came out to play in the Mount Gambier Cycling Club’s annual weekend of cycling, but it was all about one man, Kelland O’Brien.
The 22-year-old arrived in the Limestone Coast as one of the star Australian Olympic track team representatives, but stole all of the headlines.
Saturday’s Lush Deserts 100 Mile Classic saw 95 riders take on the 84th edition of the race crisscrossing all points of the region from Mount Gambier, Millicent, Mount Burr, Port MacDonnell and the Blue Lake.
But only 75 could cross the finish line and none could stop O’Brien from winning and smashing the course record by more than three minutes.
Sunday was another cause for celebrations for the young star as he defended his South Australian Kermesse title from two years ago.
O’Brien has achieved a lot in his short career including a breath-taking contribution in Australia’s 2018 Commonwealth Games team pursuit gold medal, but admitted he has started to generate a soft spot for the Limestone Coast.
“I have had a fair bit of luck in Mount Gambier with the Tour of Great South Coast, 100 Mile Classic and back-to-back Kermesse wins,” he said.
“Our coach (Tim Decker) built a lot of hype around the weekend, so we loved the races.
“I am very happy to keep the streak going up here.” Each win had its challenges and moments and O’Brien lined up with 23 others in the scratch group with it all to do starting 59 minutes after the green flag due to the handicap rules.
As the riders battled through the blustery conditions, it was not until the second half of the race O’Brien and the pre-race favorites’ pace made some dividends.
However, it was also the moment where O’Brien thought all the hard work suddenly accounted for nothing as he could see the race slip away on the approach to Port MacDonnell.
“The start was super-fast and we were averaging more than 50kph, but did not see too many people until the back half of the race,” he said.
“After there were a few attacks and splits and I missed one with 35km to go, so my heart was in my mouth.
“Five of the strongest guys had around 200 metres ahead of us, so I had to go full gas, but luckily I managed to get back to the front group again.” O’Brien was not contempt with just rejoining the leaders and pressed on to establish a lead after making one of numer- ous attacks stick.
He said this critical passage decided the race.
“There were a lot of attacks in the last 15km once we caught the front markers and most of them happened on a little climb with about 5km to go,” O’Brien said.
“The climb up to the Blue Lake was horrible because I was by myself and worried if I got caught I was not going to win, but luckily enough I stayed away.” In a “special” moment, O’Brien crossed the line in a formation finish with team mate and fellow Tokyo Olympian Luke Plapp, while Leigh Howard came home third 10 seconds behind.
The first non-scratch cyclist was Eddie Worrall in eighth, while the leading-local was David Bryant, who just missed out on the top 10 after an impressive ride.
The respective Under 11-13 and Under 15-17 ASW Junior Classics went to local young guns Molly Opperman and Jami Buckley.
After some endured more than four hours on the open roads, many of them jumped back on their bikes Sunday morning for the MGA SA Open Kermesse Championship.
Slippery conditions greeted riders for a 75-minute plus two lap race around the iconic Blue Lake not too dissimilar to a track pursuit and the future Olympians O’Brien, Howard and Plapp showed their class.
The trio swiftly formed a breakaway group, which was never challenged by the peloton.
O’Brien won the sprint to the line ahead of Howard with Plapp third, while the rest followed two and a half minutes later.
The two-time Kermesse champion said the wet weather played into his hands.
“The weather was cold and miserable, but I love racing in these conditions,” O’Brien said.
“A lot more comes into it because you cannot think or see too much from the spray, so it is all head down, bum up.
“It was much easier to control in the smaller bunch.” Now O’Brien has his sights firmly set on Tokyo and a gold medal before shifting his attention to events like the Tour de France.
“The Olympics has always been the number-one goal for me,” he said.
“In the build up to the Olympics you need to do a lot of miles on the road, so this weekend has been really good for us.
“After all of the mental battles since last year’s postponement, it is definitely the one I want to get ticked off before I move onto the road for my professional career.
“I would also love to compete in the grand tours and classics one day.” National track team coach Decker ensured he did not miss out on the fun and won the B Grade support Kermesse, while C Grade went to Phil Crick.
There were four junior Kermesse races with Opperman, Liam Underwood, Paige Squire, Darcy Greenwood and Kalan Tucker taking home state titles.