AN emotional Aaron Donnelly struggled to find words to describe the drama he endured during the Campolina Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic.
When he composed himself, “unbelievable” was among the first which came to mind.
The 21-year-old New South Welshman tried to outsprint Dutchman Floris Goesinnen as the 262-kilometre Classic came to a dramatic conclusion, but did not have the energy.
But his runner-up finish was a remarkable result for a young rider who has overcome his fair share of adversity this year.
Donnelly was weeks away from starting a European summer campaign earlier this year when he broke his wrist at his Italian training base.
Instead of testing himself on the continental circuit, the Jayco-AIS rider — who rode under the Aussie Farmers Dairy banner on Saturday — returned to Australia to recover.
His comeback continued with a stellar ride in the Classic, although not without more drama.
Donnelly was part of a crash 10 kilometres into the race which split the Classic field and left him, and a host of other high-profile riders, chasing the peloton.
He spent the next 80 kilometres chasing and, with 40 kilometres to go, was daring enough to join Goesinnen in the race-defining breakaway.
Understandably, there was nothing left in the tank when Goesinnen sprinted clear on the line.
“I’m a bit emotional. It’s unbelievable,” he said.
“I was tangled up in the crash at the 10km mark and then we spent 80km chasing to get back on.
“I was very close to getting off the bike, but lucky I didn’t and a few kilometres later we saw the bunch.
“It was sit in and recover until the end.”
Donnelly said he thought he and Goesinnen made their breakaway too early.
But the pair kept encouraging each other as they closed in on Warrnambool and managed to hold on.
“I thought we headed over a bit too early and I was a bit worried we didn’t have a Genesys or Budget rider,” he said.
“They’re very strong teams, I thought they’d bring us back. I’m very happy.”
West Australian Bradeley Hall, who led the peloton home 35 seconds behind the winner, said he was pleased with the result.
The 34-year-old Plan B Racing rider said the Classic was “the one race of the year I wanted to do well at”.
“I thought we had brought the other two guys back about 500 metres before the finish line,” he said.
“I now know what it’s like to win a Warrnambool for three seconds, until I realised the other guys (were) in front of me. It’s a great feeling.”