Big guns on top in Merv Dean Memorial Tour of Bendigo

Class has risen to the top in the Merv Dean Memorial Tour of Bendigo.

Australian team pursuit stars Sam Welsford and Kell O’Brien sit first and second respectively heading into Monday’s final stage at the Huntly Livestock Exchange.

Welsford leads O’Brien by just six seconds, with Shepparton’s Brad Norton a further 15 seconds away in third place.

Sam Eddy is the highest-ranked Bendigo rider in seventh place – 90 seconds behind Welsford. Connor Sens is eighth and Julian Thomson 10th. Alexander Evans and Brendan Schultz are 16th and 17th respectively – 2:30 behind Welsford.

Monday’s fourth stage is a criterium, which will make it hard for those behind Welsford to make up ground.

Welsford and O’Brien moved to the top of the general classification after they dominated Sunday’s two stages at Bridgewater.

O’Brien won the 12km time-trial in a sizzling 15:29.7, with Welsford just three seconds behind.

Welsford took the honours in the 87km third stage.

Welsford, O’Brien, their coach Tim Decker, Bendigo’s Julian Thompson and Kilkenny’s Tom Kaesler broke away from the peleton.

Welsford took the honours in a sprint finish from Thomson and Kaesler, with Decker fourth and O’Brien fifth. That group finished 36 seconds ahead of the pack.

Norton went into day two with the general classification lead after winning the opening stage on Saturday at Harcourt.

Norton won the 87km stage in a sprint finish from Alistair Donohoe and Sam Eddy.

General classification heading into final day: 1. Sam Welsford, 2. Kell O’Brien +6, 3. Brad Norton +21, 4. Luke Plapp +58,  5. Jordan Villani +1:07, 6. Tom Kaesler +1:26, 7. Sam Eddy + 1:30, 8. Connor Sens +1:31, 9. Josh Harrison +1:35, 10. Julian Thomson +1:43.

Meanwhile, Blackburn’s Harry Morgan looks to have a mortgage on the B-grade tour.

Morgan holds a 75-second advantage on Brunswick’s Nick Abels heading into the final stage.

Castlemaine’s Joel Maddern is fourth, while Bendigo trio Taylor Anstee, Aidan Hamilton and Sam Buckle are fifth, sixth and seventh respectively.

In the C-grade tour, Albury-Wodonga’s Tom Sharp leads Mornington’s Andrew Gynes by eight seconds, with Bendigo’s Spencer Evans a further 10 seconds behind in third.