A 26-rider breakaway created a nerve-wrenching ending in the final stage at the Santos Tour Down Under Sunday, and it took the entire Trek-Segafredo team to ride the front all day to deliver Richie Porte the victory.
“To win the race again is a fantastic feeling,” said Porte. “It was a hard day for our team; there were times when I thought maybe the GC was over and done with because it was a big group up the road. But credit to the guys, almost single-handedly, they brought that all back.
“You know people are quick to single out Mads Pedersen because he’s the World Champion here helping me, but every one of my teammates has been incredible; they all played their part in today.”
It wasn’t until after the first ascent of Willunga Hill and the breakaway’s lead still at two and a half minutes that Mitchelton-Scott, playing a good game of poker for most of the day, came to assist the US WorldTour team in the chase.
When the bunch hit the steepest part of the climb with 2.5 kilometers remaining, the gap had been sliced to just over one minute. When moments later, a struggling Daryl Impey lost contact, Porte’s advantage swelled, although he still needed to take heed of Simon Yates, who was glued to his wheel.
“When Yates sat on my wheel, the mind battles start a bit because he’s a fantastic bike rider, and I knew my work was cut out,” explained Porte. “I had to ride him off the wheel as well. He’s got youth on his side to me – I’m getting on a bit – but I just had to do my own race. I was on my limit; it was probably one of the faster times that we’ve gone up here.”
But Porte did what Porte always does – he hit it again. Finally, Yates cracked.
With only breakaway riders ahead, the overall title was Porte’s. But could he still take an unprecedented 7th straight win on Willunga Hill?
Porte caught the last two of the breakaway, but Matthew Holmes (Lotto Soudal) had enough left to come around Porte for the stage win, ending Porte’s reign at six.
“It would have been nice to have been King of Willunga for the 7th time, but I think I will take the ochre jersey any day. At the end of the day, we didn’t win the battle, but we won the war. And credit to Mitchelton, they did a fantastic race all week, they made it a hard race, and I think it was an exciting finale.”
And as for his teammates that made this all possible, Porte had nothing but praise:
“The boys were fantastic all week; I tip my cap to them. It was a little bit panic stations there in the middle, we had to ride hard for the whole day, and AG2R also helped.
“Mads (Pedersen) pretty much single-handedly took 2 minutes out of the 26 guys up the road. He’s a fantastic guy. When he won the World’s, a few days after, he said to me that he would come down to Tour Down Under and help me to try and win the race. For him to back that up …he’s been awesome, all week, like all the guys have. We have new teammates in two young neo-pros and Kenny Elissonde as well and they all stepped up, so a big credit to them. It’s a great feeling to finish their work off this week.”
With the women’s and men’s teams winning the Santos Tour Down Under, Trek-Segafredo has started the season on a high.
“Yeah, it’s a great start to the year for us: for the women to win the women’s Tour and then for me to win this one,” agreed Porte. “Everyone has their opinions on peaking, and this and that, but being from Australia, to win the Tour Down Under, it’s a great satisfaction.
“I won’t let anybody take any of that away. I’ve worked hard for this, and now I know I can still win bike races, so it’s good for the season coming. They don’t get any easier to win these bike races, so I will savor this one.”
Photo credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Sport