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The young Australian sprinter steps out of Ewan's shadows by beating the best Australian sprinter on the third stage of the Sun Tour while Simon Clarke defends yellow on the eve of the queen stage

Photo: Sirotti

HERALD SUN TOUR

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ROBERT-JON MCCARTHY

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SIMON CLARKE

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08.02.2014 @ 09:28 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Robert-Jon McCarthy (U23 National Team) proved that there is much more to the young Australian sprinting scene that super talent Caleb Ewan when he beat the Australian sprinting elite to win the third stage of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. While big favourite Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE) was unfortunate to lose his chain 200m from the line, McCarthy shot ahead to hold off Rico Rogers (OCBS) and Felix English (Rapha Condor) while Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEDGE) finished 11th to defend his lead ahead of tomorrow's queen stage.

 

In the last few years all focus has been on Caleb Ewan when the talk has been about exciting young Australian sprinters but after today's third stage of the Herald Sun Tour, it may be time to add another name to the list. With Ewan out due to tiredness, 19-year-old Robert-Jon McCarthy became an upset winner of the bunch sprint that included most of the Australian sprinting elite.

 

McCarthy maneuvered his way through the hectic final kilometres that were dominated by the big lead-out train which all scrambled for position near the front of the peloton. While most of the sprinters were fighting for the wheel of big favourite Matt Goss, McCarthy decided to focus on the Drapac train that prepared the sprint for another of Australia's fastest riders, Jonathan Cantwell.

 

That proved to be a wise decision as Goss' chain came off just 200m from the line. As opposed to this, McCarthy found a clear run to the line and had enough speed to hold off Rico Rogers and Felix English to take what is by far the biggest win of his young career.

 

While Orica-GreenEDGE had little luck in the sprint, they will find consolation in the fact that the team had the entire stage under control and that race leader Simon Clarke crossed the line comfortably in 11th to defend his narrow 8-second lead over Cameron Wurf (Cannondale). Jack Haig (Avanti) also survived today's scorching heat and remains in 3rd, 3 seconds further adrift.

 

Clarke is now just one day away from his first big win in a stage race but the one missing day is the big one as he still needs to overcome the race's queen stage. The riders will tackle the brutal climb of Arthur's Seat near the end, with the final passage coming just 200m from the line. With three riders within shouting distance of the overall win, all is still to play for in Australia's oldest stage race.

 

A flat, hot stage

The 156.1km stage from Mitchelton Winery to Nagambie contained two smaller climbs but was mostly flat and it was widely tipped that the sprinters would get one final chance to shine before Sunday's queen stage. However, scorching heat has hit the state of Victoria and the start of the stage was moved forward an hour to avoid the most sweltering conditions in the afternoon.

 

Whether it was the heat or the lack of hard terrain is unknown but there was no big fight to get into the early breakaway. As soon as the flag was dropped, six riders got off the front and they were quickly joined by another to make it a front septet.

 

A solid gap

Chris Jory (Australia), Hugh Carthy (Rapha Condor), Davide Frattini (UnitedHealthCare), Nathan Elliott (African Wildlife Safaris), Jack Anderson (Drapac), Sam Spokes (Australia U23) and Elchin Asadov (Synergy Baku) started to build up a gap while Kristian Juel (Budget Forklifts) set off in pursuit. After 15km, the front group was already 3.56 minutes ahead and a little later Juel was paid back for his hard work when he made the junction.

 

In the peloton, Orica-GreenEDGE and Garmin-Sharp started to control proceedings and their pace was enough to bring the gap down to less than 3 minutes by the time they reached the first categorized climb at the 60.2km mark. Juel still had enough left in the tank to take maximum points ahead of Anderson and Spokes.

 

More points for Anderson

Just 6.7km further up the road, the riders tackled the final climb of the day, with Anderson taking the points ahead of Spokes and Frattini. At that time, the gap had come down to 2.45 and the peloton had everything under control.

 

The advantage continued to come down under the impetus of Orica-GreenEDGE and Garmin-Sharp while the escapees started to attack each other a bit. By the time, they reached the site of the first intermediate sprint, they were still together, allowing Anderson to take the points ahead of Spokes and Juel.

 

Jory attacks on his own

The peloton realized that it was too early to catch the break and so slowed down a bit, allowing the gap to grow from 1.17 back up to 1.43. Meanwhile, Jory decided to go off the front of his own, building up a 20-second gap over his former companions.

 

It wasn't to be though and with 34km to go, the 8 escapees were back together with a 1.15 gap. By now, Cannondale had decided that it was time to up the pace and they were setting a hard pace to set up a sprint for Guillaume Boivin.

 

Anderson takes the points jersey

With 25km to go, the gap was down to less than a minute but the breakaway did a good job to keep the gap stable for the next 10km. Anderson beat Jory and Alsadov in the final intermediate sprint just 12.7km from the finish to take over the points jersey from Clarke.

 

At that point, a small drama unfolded in the peloton as a clash of wheels saw Garmin-Sharp sprinter Steele Von Hoff and Alberto Bettiol (Cannondale) hit the deck. He managed to rejoin the peloton but there was less luck for Pat Shaw (Australia) who left the race in an ambulance while eventual winner McCarthy narrowly avoided hitting the deck.

 

In the hectic run-in to the finish, the break split up but with 5km to go, the final 4 riders were swallowed up by the peloton. By now, it was clear that the race would end in a bunch sprint and all eyes were on Goss to come away with the win. However, a mechanical incident 200m from the line upset his plan, opening the door for McCarthy to take the biggest win of his career.

 

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