When two-time winner Luke Plapp and Jayco-AIUIa teammate Chris Harper went off out the front of the men’s elite road race at Australia’s Road National Championships with more than 100km to go, it wasn’t long before the question turned from will they make it to – which one will claim the title?
It was a discussion that raged on for lap after lap around the course, given that if Plapp won that would mean three titles in a row. On the other hand, if the hard-working Harper claimed the victory for himself, it would be an incredible reward for his unstinting efforts as an ever-reliable domestique.
But it turned out that, even though the pair had only been teammates for barely a week, there was no such consternation out on the road.
“Harps is amazing,” Plapp told reporters afterwards. ”He told me very early on that it is mine and I can’t thank him enough. He is such a class act and such a gentleman.”
Harper has been close to the top step before in Buninyong, looking every bit a potential future winner when in 2018 he claimed third and then second in 2019.
2024 is the first time Harper has been on the podium since then, after heading to the WorldTour in 2020 with Jumbo-Visma and subsequently joining Jayco-AlUla last season. In that time he has carved out a reputation as an ever-reliable domestique, which will no doubt grow as a result of Sunday’s efforts.
“Plappy was obviously going for three in a row, which is pretty special so I was quite happy to see him win. But to be honest, he was probably riding stronger anyway,” said Harper. “The last couple of laps I was hurting a bit up the climb and he was still riding strong so he probably deserves it.”
The understanding that the pair seem to have reached so seamlessly also meant they could enjoy their final moments out on the road, riding together and celebrating. They delivered a relaxed pace over the line, savouring a special moment for both the riders and the team. As Australia’s only WorldTour squad, Jayco-AIUIa can take a certain amount of pride in bringing the green-and-gold-striped jersey back into the fold, after a two-year absence when Plapp claimed it for Ineos Grenadiers instead.
“The important thing today was to bring the jersey back to the team and so as long as one of us was in the jersey that’s all that matters,” Harper said, after the team not only took the title but delivered a clean sweep of the podium thanks to Kelland O’Brien also securing third.
Still, with the…