Chris Froome (Sky) lived up to his status as pre-race favourite when he took the leader’s jersey off the shoulders of his teammate Peter Kennaugh in the final stage of the Herald Sun Tour. After having gone for the KOM points, he suddenly found himself in a two-rider break and then made his race-winning attack on the final climb of Arthur’s Seat to comfortably hold off Damien Howson (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Jonathan Clarke (Unitedhealthcare). His time gains were enough to take the overall win ahead of teammate Kennaugh and Howson.
Team Sky had gone into the Herald Sun Tour with the plan to go for the overall win with Chris Froome but after Peter Kennaugh’s stage win in the opening road stage, the team changed its focus. Going into today’s queen stage on the final day, the plan was to deliver Kennaugh to overall victory.
While it was a sudden change of circumstances that had given Kennaugh the leadership, it was another coincidence that suddenly turned the internal hierarchy on its head in the final stage and after three passages of the infamous climb of Arthur’s Seat, it was Froome who lived up to his pre-race status as favourite by stepping onto the podium as both the stage and overall winner. By doing so, he continued his streak of winning the first race of his season which has been ongoing since 2013.
The final stage was the hardest of the race and included three passages of the 3km climb inside the final 35km, with the finish line coming at the top of the ascent. As expected, it was Sky that had taken control as they approached the climb for the first time and made sure that things were back together.
Ian Boswell paced his five teammates to the top before Chris Harper (State of Matter) tried to defend his KOM jersey. However, Froome had his eyes on that jersey and easily passed the Australian, with Sky teammates Salvatore Puccio and Sebastian Henao crossing in third and fourth respectively.
While Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEDGE) abandoned, Sky continued to pace the peloton to the bottom of the climb where Boswell again set the pace. More riders were sent out the back door as the Brits applied the pressure.
As they approached the top, Froome again accelerated to go for the KOM points but this time Joe Cooper (Avanti) followed the move to take second ahead of Boswell and Henao. The Kiwi decided to continue and Froome latched onto his wheel.
Following team orders, Froome didn’t contribute to the pace-setting and he was content to sit on while the gap went out to 17 seconds. Sky stopped their work in the peloton and so it was 22 seconds with 10km to go.
Trek, Unitedhealthcare, Drapac, ONE and Orica-GreenEDGE all started to chase but they were unable to do much against the strong Cooper who pushed the gap out to 40 seconds with 5km to go. However, as they hit the climb, the gap had been reduced to just 13 seconds and Froome realized that they were about to be caught.
This prompted the Tour de France champion to launch an attack and he quickly dropped Cooper. Meanwhile, Damien Howson attacked from the peloton and after Jonathan Clarke had briefly rejoined him, he rode away from the small main group.
However, there was no one stopping Froome who had an advantage who had an 18-second advantage with 2km to go. As he reached the finish, he had plenty of time to celebrate his win and crossed the line with a 17-second gap to Howson while Clarke was four seconds further back in third.
Kennaugh could only manage seventh on the climb and so Froome took the overall win with a 29-second advantage over his teammate while Howson’s great rider moved into third 1.01 behind Froome and three seconds ahead of Jack Bobridge (Trek). Froome also won the mountains jersey while Ben Hill (Attaque Team) won the sprints competition. Chris Hamilton (Australia) was the best young rider and Sky the strongest team.
With the Herald Sun Tour done and dusted, the Australian cycling summer has come to an end. The big teams will now return to Europe while many of the pro continental teams will head to Asia for the Tour de Langkawi later this month.
The queen stage
After two relatively flat stages, it was time for the queen stage which brought the riders over 121.8km around the infamous climb of Arthur’s Seat after a lumpy opening circuit with no categorized climbs, the riders returned to the ascent which they tackled for the first time with 31.8km to go. In the end, they did two laps of a 16.3km circuit that saw them go up the climb another two times.
It was a great sunny day when the 93 remaining riders rolled out for their neutral ride from the top of Arthur’s Seat. Like in stage 2, it was a frantic start with lots of attacks.
Four riders get clear
Liam Hill (Kenyan Riders), Nathan Earle (Drapac) and Craig Evers (Data#3) were the first to get a significant gap but State of Matter brought it back together at the 12km mark. Data#3, Drapac and Novo Nordisk were all very active but things were still together at the 19km mark after Sky had shut another move down.
At the 24km mark, Ewan and Fumiyuki Beppu (Trek) got a small advantage and they were quickly joined by Hill and Pat Shaw (Avanti). They worked hard to push their advantage out to 47 seconds before the peloton took a natural break.
Hill wins the points competition
That allowed the gap to grow rapidly and it was 2.21 at the 30km mark. However, Sky had no intention of letting it getting out of control and it was down to 1.21 with 90km to go.
The gap hovered around the 1.30 mark while Hill won the first intermediate sprint ahead of Shaw and Beppu which was enough to secure the win in the points competition. At this point, the gap was 1.20 but Sky quickly brought it down to just 52 seconds a few kilometres later.
The break splits up
As they approached the second sprint, Beppu attacked. He claimed maximum points ahead of Shaw and Hill before Ewan decided to sit up.
Beppu pushed the gap out to 1.04 while Hill also decided to drop back to the peloton. Meanwile, Christian Meier (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Travis Meyer (Drapac) came out of the pack and after picking up Shaw, they joined Beppu in the front.
The quartet had a 56-second advantage at the 71km mark and it reached a maximum of 1.11 but Sky were still chasing hard. As they approached the climb, they upped the pace even further and before they hit the ascent, they had brought it back together for the exciting finale
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