Less than three months ago, Liam Edwards was in intensive care after a car crash — and today he can call himself an Australian champion.
The Shepparton star continued his exceptional recovery at the weekend, not only competing, but beating the field in the Road Nationals C5 para-cycling road race to win himself a famous green and gold-striped jersey.
At Ballarat's hilly Mt Buninyong track, Edwards broke away from his rivals early in the 61 km race and showed his strength by riding the majority of the race by himself, eventually putting plenty of time into his fellow competitors and taking a comfortable win.
Edwards claimed the C5 category by 4:45 to Daniel Van Der Laan, with Andrew Wilkinson third a further seven seconds back.
But for the 20-year-old, the real victory was he had taken another step in terms of chasing his cycling dreams after the car accident left him without four fingers on his right hand.
“It was really special; it was just good to be back on the bike racing, but to get the result was the cherry on top,” Edwards said.
“There were a few good boys there, really strong boys and I knew I had to be on my game. I just went out there and did in the race what I did all through training, and tried to let my riding do all the talking.”
His first race since coming close to death while driving home from Violet Town in October — and his debut in the para-cycling class — Edwards showed he has retained the serious power he packs in his legs, riding away from his rivals.
“The first roll around was a bit of cat and mouse, but the second lap at the base of the hill I attacked,” he said.
“I probably had a 30-second gap for that lap, but eventually I was able to break away.
“I probably rode 40 or 50 km by myself. I'm starting to get some good form and it's all about just improving as the year goes on.”
Edwards also finished second in the 23.6 km time trial, beaten by former para-cycling world champion Alistair Donohoe.
“I was pretty happy with my time trial, I'd done very minimal training specifically for it, much more for the road race,” he said.
“It was a three-lap course and on the last lap I died a bit, especially without too much training.”
● Shepparton Cycling Club's Brad Norton also had a golden weekend, claiming the open men's club time trial championship with a team from Hunter District Cycling.
With Jonathan Millington and Ben Neppl, Norton's team finished the course in 44:13, nearly four minutes clear of the second-ranked team from Ballarat Sebastopol Cycling Club.
Echuca's Patrick Eddy — who now represents the Bendigo and District Cycling Club — can also call himself a national champion, winning the under-19 time trial.
Eddy put in a stellar ride, finishing nearly a minute clear of second place.
Norton's wife Rhiannon finished 18th in the elite women's time trial, about six minutes back from winner Sarah Gigante.
Steve Fairless finished 13th in the male 55-59 Gran Fondo, while Peter McClelland was 13th in the 60-64 class, while Bradley Higgins finished 28th in the male 40-44.
Byron Woods did not finish the men's under-23 road race.