Victoria's Simon Gerrans, 31, has been crowned Australian champion after a thrilling elite men's road race at the 2012 Mars Cycling Australia Road National Championships in Buninyong, near Ballarat.
GreenEDGE's Gerrans, the only Australian to have claimed a stage win in each of the 'Grand Tours', Tour De France, Giro d'italia and Vuelta a España, edged out Tasmania's Richie Porte (Team Sky) and Victoria's Matthew Lloyd (Lampre - ISD) in a sprint to the line at the end of the 163.2 kilometre race.
"This is such an honour, it is far and above one of my proudest moments in cycling and to now (I get to) be crowned Australian champion for the next twelve months, and to be able to wear the green and gold through all the big races in Europe," said Gerrans.
"I just capped off some great team work from GreenEdge today, I am so proud of all of the guys," he added.
A field of 140 riders set out to conquer sixteen laps of the 10.2 kilometre course and the pace was fierce from the start. Repeated attacks and counter attacks had the fans enthralled as Australia's top talent battled for the green and gold in a brutal contest that saw only 21 of the 140 starters complete the race.
Every lap saw the peloton whittled down and by the time the race went under the start finish arch for the bell lap, 23 of the world's best headed into the final ten kilometre showdown.
On the final climb of Mt Buninyong Gerrans made his move with Lloyd hot on his tail. Porte struck out to join them but the pair in front made it tough and it wasn't until the final few kilometres that Porte managed to get on the wheel. Then came an engaging game of cat and mouse before Gerrans, the superior sprinter of the three, outfoxed his opponents on the final run into Buninyong to claim the title in front of around 20,000 fans.
"The way the race unfolded didn't really go to plan, but it went to plan that I won it," said Gerrans. "I was going to try and save as much as I could for the last few laps of the race, but as it turned out, the race was blown to pieces after about 50 kilometres.
"Then with a couple of laps to go, Cameron Meyer (GreenEDGE) who was out the front ran out of gas and it became an even playing field as we had the same amount of guys at the front as a lot of other teams, so it was pretty much every team for itself and we lost our advantage.
"I have done a lot of hard work over the past couple of months to start the season in good shape, so that's why it is such a thrill that all that hard work has paid off with a win." he added.
Despite being forced to battle it out in a sprint at the end of the race, the experienced Gerrans revealed he was confident heading into the final moments although he had been a little worried when he and Lloyd thought that it was Tour of Spain stage winner, CJ Sutton (Team Sky), a talented sprinter chasing them not Richie Porte.
"It was only about five hundred metres before the line when I realised that it was Richie Porte, so I was a little less worried knowing it was him," said Gerrans. "Coming to the finish after a long tough race like that one with a time triallist and a climber, I knew I had a bit of a kick on me to finish off a race like that, so I was confident coming to the line."
The win gave the GreenEDGE team it's first professional win and Gerrans paid tribute to his teammates efforts during the race.
"It is such a great way to start a season with a new team and some big races here in Australia to get the season under way, I was really motivated to start the season in good shape," Gerrans said.
"It was a race that had everything in it we just really tried to dominate the race with numbers at GreenEDGE and try to have guys in the breakaway all day long."
Defending road champion Jack Bobridge, his GreenEDGE teammate Luke Durbridge and Garmin-Cervelo's Nathan Haas, were strong early while five time Olympian Stuart O'Grady (GreenEDGE) was also driving the pace including a stint out in front with another of the strongmen of the day, Mathew Hayman (Team Sky).
Garmin's Heinrich Haussler also threw his hat in the ring halfway through when he set off in pursuit of 2011 national time trial champion Cameron Meyer with Meyer's team mate Luke Durbridge latched on like a limpet to Haussler's wheel.
Meyer at one stage was more than three minutes ahead and many thought he might have stolen the march on the field but after a solo 30 kilometres in the lead he was caught after some solid chasing by GreenEDGE's rivals.
Two other riders amongst those to make their mark today were Will Clarke (Champion Systems) and Bernard Sulzberger (Team Raleigh) who finished fifth and tenth respectivelty and who were solid performers throughout the day. Their efforts saw them earn selection as the final two riders for the UniSA-Australia national team line up to contest the Santos Tour Down Under, the opening WorldTour event of the season.
Back on the podium Lloyd, 28, who won the title in 2008, was ecstatic to be back on the podium after a disappointing 2011.
"About 600 metres out, I thought 'I've got to go' and I made the attempt and I know we're not fantastic sprinters, you'll never see me sprint fast in my life," Lloyd explained. "And I knew Simon would be following me and once he went, he was way too strong.
"(But) I was mega-stoked for Simon, and Richie, it's a race that's very special and I'm humbled to come second to him (Gerrans), because he's a brilliant bike rider," said Lloyd. "The jersey, once you've got it you can never be taken away and was beautiful to see."
Lloyd, who signed with Lampre-ISD late last year, says the team has given him a new lease on life.
"It's incredible - I've never actually felt better in cycling as far as I can remember," he said. "It's been awesome, because you come into an environment with a new team and you know the injuries are gone.
"My ambition for the day was to put the (race) numbers back on and rejoin the professional ranks and the key factor for me was just the involvement and feeling like I was doing what I love.
"Maybe that's reflected in the results." he added.
It was the first national road race result for Porte, 26, who was fourth in 2008.
"At the end of the day, I was told to back myself, and maybe I did, well I did lead it out up that back climb," said Porte. "I knew I was never going to be as punchy as Simon and Lloydy at the finish and I think it was probably the slowest sprint for second place ever.
"But to end up third, I was happy with that. It's a much better start to my year than (previously)," he said
One of only four Team Sky riders in the main field along with Sutton, Mathew Hayman and Michael Rogers, Porte made no excuses after the race, instead he is looking ahead to the Tuesday's time trial.
"My team was incredible, but I guess we had quality, not quantity, but hats off to GreenEDGE," he said. "I have trained specifically for the time trial, so now I need to recover and come out swinging on Tuesday."