BENDIGO’S Robbie Hucker has raced to a thrilling hometown victory in Sunday’s 95-kilometre Rob Vernon Memorial senior handicap.
The 27-year-old claimed line honours, one second ahead of IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness teammates and fellow scratch bunch riders Sam Chrome and Sean Lake.
Former Australian road champion Peta Mullens was the first female rider across the line and fourth overall, less than a minute behind the leading trio.
Mullens, who will represent Australia at the Mount Bike World Championships in Cairns next month, was seeking a third win in the prestigious handicap race after wins in 2009 and 2012.
The 29-year-old’s strong performance meant Bendigo and District Cycling Club riders filled three of the top four positions, with Lake, from the Melbourne University Cycling Club, the exception.
Max Heizer and Jarrod Moroni made it five Bendigo riders in the top 10, by finishing ninth and 10th.
A strong scratch bunch of 18 riders was whittled down to less than 10 by the top of the climb Three Tier Hill, about 25 kilometres in the race.
That group caught the second and third scratch bunches (five and 10 minutes) about 40 kilometres into the race, and trailed the leading three bunches which had merged by little more than five minutes.
The gap between the groups was narrowed within 17 kilometres, with Hucker, Chrome and Lake forming a breakaway group with eight riders, including Mullens.
By Sedgwick the group had been reduced to four, with Mullens bravely holding on until about three kilometres out from finish before the leading trio broke away to fight out the finish.
Hucker said it was satisfying to get a win in front of friends and family, including his mum, dad and fiancée.
“You don’t get to race at home a lot, but especially to have something like the Rob Vernon Memorial handicap to come home to is special,” he said.
“To have my whole family there was pretty cool, but to be able to win was even better.
“It was nice to have us three teammates there at the end.”
Hucker, who will take a short break from competition before lining-up in next month’s Tour of China, reserved special praise for Mullens.
“It was good to have Peta there, she showed how strong she is,” he said.
“She hung on to us over the last climb and we were pushing things quite hard.
“She’s a class bike rider – I wasn’t surprised that she hung on to us.”
Following his return from China, Hucker will set his sights on the National Road Series, which includes the Melbourne to Warrnambool and Tour of Gippsland.
Nearly 160 riders faced the starter in the open handicap and junior events.
Luka Cordedda won the 34km junior 15 and 17 handicap from fellow Bendigo club riders Cody Torrington and Zachary Gartside.
Echuca’s Jasmine Eddy was the fastest girl and finished sixth overall.
In the 12km junior 13 handicap, Bendigo’s Nate Hadden, Xavier Ciancio and Castlemaine’s Taylor Collier filled the top three placings.
Brunswick Cycling Club’s Maxx Nuspan won the 7.2km junior 11 race from Bendigo’s Chase Hadden and Isaac Jones.