The NRS has a loyal following. Anyone who comes in contact with the series becomes an instant advocate. There is so much passion, drive and support for the sport, but it has been so rarely captured.
One of the biggest advocates for the sport, and one committed to documenting it is Jamie Finch-Penninger. Jamie is a journalist who writes for SBS and Cycling Central and runs the insightful BrakeDown Podcast, along with other freelance work.
Jamie has always been a big supporter of the team. We are happy we finally gave him something to write about even if it didn’t get the nod to get published.
Thanks, Jamie, and everyone else who has supported the team and contacted us post-race. Every message of support, comment or reaction was greatly appreciated. We are glad we share our journey with you all. – Lachie
Tour of the Great South Coast Stage Four – An Unlikely Winner
By Jamie Finch Penninger
An unlikely winner on Stage 4 of the Tour of the Great South Coast provided one of the stories of the race, as an unheralded rider in Jason Thomason (Van D’am Racing p/b Butterfields) took out the victory from the breakaway.
Cycling can be a brutal sport. That is particularly true for those at the back of the peloton, grovelling in the wake of some of the superb athletes that the National Road Series sees grace the roads of regional Australia.
One of the teams of the battlers in unquestionably Van D’am Racing p/b Butterfields, a development squad from South Australia that is more accustomed to the middle of the result sheet than the top.
The stage was well set-up for a breakaway win, with some big-time gaps on the general classification after wet and windy racing had set up a clear pecking order in the battle for the race lead.
Thomason made his move at the midway point of the race, initiating a move with Patrick Burt (Drapac EF Education First Holistic Cycling) to track down two early escapees in Sam Hill (Phoenix Cycling Collective) and Chris Miller (Nero KOM Racing).
“It’s pretty unexpected, but I’m super stoked to finally get a win at this level of racing,” said an emotional Thomason after the race. “Pretty much for the first 40 kilometres we were going straight up the highway into a headwind, there were quite a few attacks but nothing stuck.
“Then when we turned off the highway we got some crosswind and it was a bit hillier. I attacked up the second KOM and the Drapac rider went with me, they were already two riders up the road and it took about 15 kilometres to get across to them and once we were across we had about three minutes on the peloton.”
A hesitant peloton couldn’t really decide who was required to do the main work of bringing the aggressors back, with leading team Bennelong SwissWellness perfectly content to see all the time bonuses and points out on course swept up by the riders in front. It put the break in a position of relative ease, knowing there was little chance of being brought back as they entered the final ten kilometres with a three-minute lead.
“We did what we had to do, but we didn’t put too much pressure on the pedals,” said Thomason. “I knew from last year that there was a little lump coming into the finish, I went hard over that. I knew two of them would be faster than me, I’m not too fast, so I had to attack.
“I was pretty confident once I got away but I had to ride it all the way out to the line.”
“This is easily my best result. I’m from New Zealand, I’ve raced a fair bit over there.. a bit less in Australia but this is a big result for me.”
Coming across the line, Thomason could only manage a muted victory salute, a fist pump was the only indication of his joy at taking the win. That changed as he was greeted by teammates and support staff, and Thomason paid tribute to the Van D’am Racing setup after the race.
“Coming over here as someone from New Zealand, without that support, and a uni student,” said Thomason,” it wouldn’t be financially possible to race without the support from the team.”
Key to that support network is Lachlan Ambrose, founder, manager and do-it-all man for Van D’am Racing, who also works as Cycling South Australia’s CEO. There were tears in the eyes of Ambrose after the race, and plenty of fellow team directors and followers of cycling were quick to offer their congratulations to the cycling tragic turned administrator.
“I think we’re in the chirpy phase, there was definitely an emotional phase before,” said Ambrose as he watched Thomason talking to the media after the stage. “It’s been three years of hard work and finally getting to the top step of the podium is a pretty rewarding experience.
“I’m actually chuffed with myself. We thought that after last stage there would be a bit of people looking around during the race. Once you come down from the range there was an opportunity for riders to sneak away to a bit of a gap. It probably went a bit earlier than I was predicting, but I’m still happy to have picked that one.”
Thomason, even as a 24-year-old, is one of the older members of the team that promotes the cases of talented youngsters from across Australia.
“Jason is an old head on a young body,” said Ambrose, “we’re pretty fortunate to have him. He’s a role model for some of the younger kids, a tireless worker, and he does what he’s told on the road. He’s done a lot of work sitting on the front for others this year, so it’s great to see him make the most of his opportunity.”
Ambrose has always been a proponent of doing things a bit differently to the rest of the field, the teams is almost exclusively filled with young developing riders and a success for the is seeing their riders graduate to one of the bigger Australian teams. They also race without a title sponsor, instead using the team name Van D’am, and have one of the best social media and video presences among the Australian peloton. Couple all that with his duties as Cycling South Australia CEO and it makes for some very long days, and this win goes some way to paying off all that effort.
“At least for the time being, it seems to make up for all that lost sleep,” said Ambrose. “Going home and doing emails until two in the morning some days. This is what we do it for.”