Tristan Saunders jokes he already had a winning photo captured crossing the finish line of Raglan Parade some twelve months ago.
Taking out the men's criterium on the Sunday of last year's Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic program, Saunders never imagined he would go on to win the iconic 267km race just a year later.
Saunders, representing Team BridgeLane, had time to savour the biggest victory of his young career on Saturday, coasting to the line after breaking away from the leaders with less than 20km to go and establishing up to a 2km gap in a field of 120 riders.
Finishing the race in a fraction over seven hours - 7:00.17 - Saunders was three minutes faster than runner-up Brendon Green of Melbourne, with Camperdown teenager Bailey McDonald in third.
Four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome - who was an eleventh hour entry - finished 12th with a time of 7:05.31.
Saunders contested his first classic in 2019 and has returned every year since. Now the South Australian has added himself to the history books as winner of one of Australia's oldest and longest road races.
"I can't believe I've now won it," Saunders, 22, said. "It's amazing.
"Personally it's awesome but I couldn't have done it without the team.
"I had the perfect ride today. I just looked after myself because we were always in the perfect position.
"And then I was just able to capitalise on having an easy day.
"Just put my head down and went to the line as hard as I could."
Saunders, who finished 10th at nationals this year in the elite men's road race, was unsure his form would be there come classic time after falling ill for a week in the lead-up to the race.
"It was a surprise I had the legs but it wasn't so much the legs, it was the teamwork that got the job done," he said.
Saunders praised the iconic event, adding he had always loved the prestige of the classic.
"There is so much history," he said. "The first time I came here I didn't even race, I just watched it.
"I was here for the Tour of the Great South Coast... and I saw the finish line and I just really loved the whole feel of it."
Saunders will look to defend his criterium title on Sunday, before travelling to Queensland in the coming months for the Oceania Cycling Championships and Tour de Brisbane.
He will then head overseas in May as he goes all in on his cycling pursuits.
"I'm knuckling down on the cycling and trying to give it a good go while I'm young," he said.
"Hopefully I can make something out of it and going all in on it this year."
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