Popular cycling journeyman Joel Pearson notched the bravest performance of his impressive career today with his second victory in the Eastern Oak Melbourne to Warrnambool Classic.
The red-haired, freckle-faced Pearson, 28, who also won the 262km classic in 2009, triumphed by 13 seconds from the rising star of Australian bike racing, Nathan Haas, with the unheralded Victorian Luke Fetch third.
“This is a dream, the biggest thrill of my life,” the jubilant Pearson told a large rain-drenched crowd at the finish line in Warrnambool’s Raglan Parade.
“I don’t think I have ever won a decent race in a solo breakaway before. This is a new one for me.”
Pearson and Fetch defied rain and strong headwinds to spurt clear of a leading group of 25 riders about 15 kilometres from Warrnambool but it was the experienced New South Welshman who found the extra grit to unload his younger rival and power home alone for the final 10kms.
With three of his Genesys Wealth Advisers team-mates – Haas, Patrick Shaw and Steele Von Hoff – backpedalling in the chasing bunch, Pearson was smiling well before he reached the finish.
“I have been playing second fiddle to the likes of Nathan and Steele this year,” Pearson said. “I was happy to do that, but to win a second Warrnambool is an incredible feeling.”
The victory was timely for Pearson, whose only major triumph since his ’09 Warrnambool win was in the eight-day Tour of the Murray River last year.
He crashed when looking a likely winner of the Australian open criterium championship in Ballarat in January, won a couple of minor races in France later on, then suffered the indignity of falling six times when trying to defend his Murray Tour crown in August.
“I’m embarrassed by all those crashes,” he said. “I don’t even want to talk about them.”
Pearson managed to avoid several falls in today’s 210-man contest, which started in buffeting winds at Werribee racecourse and concluded in driving rain.
Despite the conditions, there were still 160 riders in the main peleton as the field approached Camperdown for the Victorian 200km championship, held in conjunction with the Warrnambool, but severe climbs through the lakes and craters region south of the township, trashed the bunch.
Victorian Adam Murchie was a surprise winner of the 200km title.
Pearson’s winning time of 7 hours 24 minutes 14 secs was one of the slowest recorded since the 116-year-old classic became a massed start event in 1996, but his effort was applauded by his team-mates.
“We are excited for Joel,” said Haas whose recent triumphs include the Tour of Tasmania,, Herald Sun Tour and Japan Cup.
“Joel is one of the good guys.”