The Australian summer of cycling began in the wake of tragedy, less than a fortnight after the untimely death of Victorian cyclist (and BSSC alumni) Jason Lowndes. The summer of cycling ended with an emotional tribute to Lowndes, courtesy of his friend Sam Crome (Bennelong-SwissWellness), winner of the final stage of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.

Crome celebrated emphatically as he crossed the finish line in Kinglake, winning the stage 4 sprint from a significantly reduced peloton. In doing so Crome beat WorldTour riders Cameron Meyer (Mitchelton-Scott; second) and Ruben Guerreiro (Trek-Segafredo; third) for stage honours in what was the biggest win of his career.

With a quiver in his voice, Crome spoke after the stage of the importance of the victory. He wasn’t just winning for himself or his team; he was winning for a fallen mate.

“It’s been a really tough time,” Crome said. “Late last year that was one of my best mates Jason Lowndes that was killed in the accident by the car. So it really hit home with us all at Bendigo. He just would have loved that so that one was for him today.

“He’d be stoked looking down at that one, that’s for sure.”

For Crome, Lowdnes’ death put everything into perspective and provided extra motivation to get the most out of himself.

“No matter how hard anything is, you’re here doing something you love and he’s not,” Crome said. “No matter how much it hurts, no matter how hard it’s been, you just keep going and going and going because you’ve got your life, you’ve got your family and friends and he’s not here.

“It’s really hard, so [the win] just means a lot.”

Crome was part of a 17-rider lead group that returned to Kinglake at the end of five laps of a hilly, 31km circuit. Up against world-class riders, Crome bided his time before hitting the front around the final corner.

“I was originally going to follow Guerreiro in the sprint because I know he’s quite fast,” Crome said. “Luckily Cam launched early and I got on it — I had to really really fight for that position into the corner.

“I thought I’d left it a bit late — when I tried to step out around Cam I wasn’t sure if I was going to get there but I managed to and just loved it.”

Crome’s win was the highlight of the week for Australian Continental team Bennelong-SwissWellness, but only one of the setup’s many impressive achievements. In addition to the stage win — the only stage win for an Australian — the team won the points classification (with Steele von Hoff), the best young rider classification (with Dylan Sunderland) and finished fifth, sixth, and seventh on GC.

For Crome, these achievements speak to the team’s spirit and their ability to match it with the best teams in the world.

“The majority of the guys have been WorldTour or ProConti that win and we’re just an Aussie Continental team but we don’t care who we race — we just come to race,” Crome said. “If it’s here, if it’s the NRS [National Road Series] we just race to win all the time and we got that.

“I think it just goes to show the strength of this team, the guys we have. That’s basically it — we’ve got a really strong team this year and I think we’re just going to continue to get these results.”