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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, January 27, 2020

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2019 Tour de France | 2019 Giro d'Italia

Nothing is worth more than this day. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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Tour Down Under final reports

We posted the report from the race organizer with the results.

Here's the report from stage winner Matthew Holmes' Lotto-Soudal team:

Three days earlier he was wondering if cycling at the highest level really suited him, but on the final day of the Santos Tour Down Under Lotto Soudal’s Matthew Holmes won the queen stage on Willunga Hill, ahead of Overall winner Richie Porte. For Lotto Soudal it was the end of a more than successful week with three stage wins as well as the win of Caleb Ewan in the Schwalbe Classic. For Holmes it was the perfect weekend. One day earlier, his girlfriend Josie Knight has won the elite individual as well as team pursuit title at the British National Track Championships.

Matthew Holmes

Matthew Holmes wins stage six. Sirotti photo

Matthew Holmes was part of a 26-strong breakaway group but he was the only breakaway rider Richie Porte couldn't drop on the second and final climb up Willunga Hill. Porte was overtaken by Holmes in the final stretch who took his first-ever professional win in what was his first WorldTour race.

“I was always waiting, waiting, waiting for the sprint but slowly I realised they were all on the limit”, said Matthew Holmes. “Then Richie came but I did not panic. All I thought was It’s great, he’s not gonna slow down and he’s just gonna take me to the finish, as he was obviously riding his own race for the GC. All I had to do was beat him and that was quite simple. As a team we had no real plan for this stage. Team Director Herman Frison gave us all a free role. So, I went in the breakaway. Also Jonathan Dibben was in the break and he did a perfect team job. I sat on, and he didn’t miss one turn all day.”

Three days earlier, in the stage finishing uphill in Paracombe, Holmes was disappointed after having finished  just 31st.

“I’ve been trying my hardest to ride well in the GC but I couldn’t handle the speed and a sort of danger in the bunch. So, I really didn’t do well the first days. Even last night I was saying to my parents, who are here these days, that this job is maybe even not for me. Today is a bit of a turnaround.”

After racing before in continental British teams, Holmes will be known from now on.

“Teams need to really look at the National Series in Britain. They are not UCI races, but they should count. They are no easy races to win. Kevin De Weert was my first contact with Lotto Soudal. Lots of people recommended me and put in a good word. It’s really good to repay them.  I’ve always thought that World Tour races would suit me better. It’s just pedaling hard. There is less tactics involved. In Britain, it’s not always the strongest rider that wins. I did not often win there as I was not good at the tactics.”

For sure Holmes looks more a climber than a classics rider.

“I don’t know. I've never really raced up a climb. I've been stuck in Britain for the last six years, which is not a bad thing. This is my second hilltop finish this week, and it seems to suit me. This will give the team a lot of confidence in me. Up to now I felt they didn’t know me very well. I am the new person in the team and they gave me the first easy job in the stages. From now on, maybe I can ask sometimes to ride for me in some stages.”

Matthew Holmes’ program is not definitely decided but…

“Short stage races were on my original plan and maybe a Grand Tour. Either the Giro or the Vuelta. I have to do something much better than today to go to the Tour de France…”, Holmes ended with a smile.

2020 Tour Down Under winner Richie Porte's Trek-Segafredo team posted this report:

In a thrilling winner-takes-all battle with Mitchelton-Scott, Richie Porte and Trek-Segafredo come out on top at the Santos Tour Down Under.

A 26-rider breakaway created a nerve-wrenching ending in the final stage 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.”

Richie Porte

Richie Porte enjoys his win. Sirotti photo

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, 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.”

Mountains classification winner Joey Rosskopf's CCC Team sent me this report:

Willunga Hill provided the backdrop to what was a fantastic day of racing for CCC Team on the final day of the Santos Tour Down Under with Joey Rosskopf fighting to defend his King of the Mountain jersey and Simon Geschke climbing to a career-best third place on the General Classification.

Starting the day with a nine point lead in the KOM classification, Rosskopf’s only hope of winning the jersey was to go in the breakaway for the fourth day and collect maximum points on the first ascent of Willunga Hill.

In a surprising move, a 26-rider breakaway featuring Rosskopf went clear in the early stages of the race and quickly built an advantage of four and a half minutes, which they maintained throughout the first 100 kilometers of racing.

At the foot of Willunga Hill, Rosskopf assumed his position at the front of the breakaway, climbing at a steady pace on the three-kilometer climb to lead the breakaway over the top and claim the maximum 16 points on offer to all but secure the jersey providing he finished the stage safely.

Joey Rosskopf

Joey Rosskopf climbing Willunga Hill. Sirotti photo

Meanwhile, back in the peloton the General Classification contenders were battling for position and in the process, allowed the reduced breakaway to increase their advantage and challenge for the stage win.

With Rosskopf only 58 seconds behind on the General Classification, he posed a serious threat and continued to hold the virtual race lead inside the final ten kilometers, when the gap to the peloton only just dropped below the two-minute mark.

At the foot of the climb, attacks came simultaneously from the breakaway and the peloton, which had closed the gap to the one-minute mark, with Rosskopf eventually being caught halfway up the climb.

Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) made his move just before the flamme rouge, which caused the majority of General Classification contenders to explode but true to his word, Geschke rode his own race and slowly clawed back the meters inside the final kilometers.

Matthew Holmes (Lotto Soudal), who was the sole survivor of the breakaway, was able to jump on Porte’s wheel in the last 300 meters and overtook Porte just before the line to win the stage, while Porte secured the ochre jersey.

Geschke’s strength and determination saw him overtake multiple riders in the final kilometer and cross the line in seventh place, just seven seconds behind Holmes and Porte, to move from seventh place to the podium, claiming a career-best WorldTour stage race result in the process.

Joey Rosskopf:
“The jersey is a really good reward because it took a lot of work to get it, a lot of days in the breakaway. You set out with a goal and you start chipping away at it from day one and to be able to actually achieve it, it’s always super rewarding. Nothing is guaranteed. At the start of the stage we were really unsure because it could have played out like yesterday with the GC guys already hitting it really hard over the climb the first time and one of them taking all of the points. So, to have such a big breakaway with so many strong guys like that was the ideal scenario. I’m sure there was a lot of arguing going on behind about who was going to chase because it must have taken a big commitment to bring a breakaway that big back. So, for us, it was an ideal scenario to even make it to the first climb like that.

“In the very first team meeting we had, especially after we lost Paddy Bevin, we were looking around and started to asses what other opportunities we could take advantage of. In the build up to the race, we were all in for GC with Paddy because he was super last year and we were defending his lead for a few days. We pictured that coming into it with no other goals. We had to re-asses and the KOM jersey was one thing we could take advantage of, especially here because it is more or a breakaway jersey than a pure climbers’ jersey so, it was within our grasp. It could have been anyone in the first day or two, whoever got in the breakaway and started chipping away. I always love to get out in front of the race but after a few days of dong it, especially this early in the season without a couple of stage races in the legs, I was starting to wonder if I was really the guy to be able to do this every single day. You never know in January how you are going to respond.”

Simon Geschke:
“It was a super positive surprise for me coming here as a helper and suddenly being in the role of a GC card. After Paracombe, I was seventh so that was already more than I expected before I came here. I had a super good day and I thought I did a good ride but finishing third is definitely a surprise. We were a bit nervous because Joey was not safe for the mountains jersey [at the beginning of the day] so we could have lost both of our goals, the top ten and mountains jersey. In the end, we can be super happy with how we rode together as a team all week. Joey, in particular, in the breakaway almost every day fighting hard so I am happy that he got what he deserved. For me, personally, last year I broke a lot of bones in the beginning of the season so it is super nice to start this season much better, with my best result ever in a WorldTour stage race.”

Jackson Stewart, Sports Director:
“We really couldn’t be happier with our performance here this week. When we lost Paddy Bevin, we had to re-focus and identify other goals, which isn’t always easy to do. We thought the KOM jersey would be an achievable target and a top ten on the General Classification with Simon Geschke would be possible. The team worked so well together and Joey battled every day for the KOM points so, it is definitely rewarding to get that jersey. Simon was already looking good after Paracombe but the way he rode today was really impressive. We couldn’t be happier to start the season at the first WorldTour race on the podium.”

Team Bora-hansgrohe sent me this report:

The last day of the Tour Down Under started in McLaren Vale and came to an end on the famed Willunga Hill, which the riders had to crest twice today. The stage was led by a break for quite some time, which included Cesare Benedetti. However, during the first passage of Willunga Hill, the peloton took up the chase of the leaders in all earnest, and the front group began to split. In the end, the main group was unable to catch up with Matthew Holmes from the breakaway, and the British rider took out the queen stage. The general classification went to Richie Porte.

From the finish line:
“We knew that there’d be a big fight for the general classification today, and so it was good to be able to get into the breakaway. I tried to make it into the leading group along with Juraj, and eventually I made the cut. However, the tempo was pretty high the whole day. On the first climb, I wasn’t able to keep up with the pace anymore, and fell back along with some other riders. Eventually we were reabsorbed by the main group behind. I would have liked to ride in the first group over the climb, however it wasn’t possible this time. Today’s tough stage was a good test of the legs and preparation for the next races here in Australia.” - Cesare Benedetti

“It’s of course really disappointing that I crashed on the third stage, which put an end to our GC hopes. After that, we had to focus on trying to take stages and try our luck  in the breakaway. I was in good form coming into this race, but these things happen and there’s not much we can do. The Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, which I won two years ago, is now a week away, and we hope my recovery progresses well to try our best there.” - Jay McCarthy

“We tried to get Cesare Benedetti and Juraj Sagan into the large breakaway. The other riders were there to remain around Ide and try to bring him into a good position on the final climb. Today presented an opportunity for him to gather some experience. Cesare made the jump into the 26-man breakaway and he tried to save as much energy as possible until the last two climbs. During the final lap, he didn’t have the legs to continue riding at the front, so we didn’t quite manage to achieve what we had wanted. Jay’s crash put an end to our ambitions in the general classification and on the harder stages. Now we have a few days to recover and then the next two races will come, where we’ll try to go for the win.” -  Enrico Poitschke, Sports Director

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