Credit: Con Chronis / Jayco Herald Sun Tour
A tough day of racing in hot conditions on the 178 kilometre stage from Bright to Wangaratta ultimately ended in a bunch sprint with Kaden Groves (Mitchelton-Scott) taking his first UCI win with his new WorldTour team.
It ended up in a bunch sprint in Wangaratta, with Groves launching around the outside of Moreno Hofland (EF Education First) and holding off Alberto Dainese (Team Sunweb) to take the win.
“It was a pretty hard stage today,” said Groves. “It was the stage I’d picked for the week, and I’m not climbing too badly at the moment, so I was pretty happy with the hard pace on the first climb, and I made the front selection.
“After that, Sunweb were really marking us out of the race – not letting us go in the break – so we had to chase all day. After the final climb before the finish, I managed to drop some of the guys, and I had Yatesy and Cam Meyer riding on the front, and it all came back together, but I think I was one of the freshest at the finish.”
Groves’ leadout man Dion Smith, ran into the shoulder of Michael Freiberg (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast), who had his sprinter Michael Rice in tow, in the final kilometre. However, Groves managed to jump over to the wheel of Mikhel Raim (Israel Start Up Nation) and then launch his final sprint to claim victory.
“We knew that EF were going to be strong,” said Groves. “They have a really strong team here, and had Jimmy [Whelan] in the break, so they never had to chase all day. They had the strongest lead-out, and I had Cam and Dion just holding it on the side of the bunch, and then coming into the last corner it was just my job to slot in.
“I think I came around the corner maybe in sixth wheel, or something, but with 400 metres to go – and there was a lot of wind around today – I was confident that I could come over the top.”
Groves had been frustrated after the first stage, disappointed in his own perception that he had let down the team, but he made good with the win in Wangaratta.
“For sure – it’s always about trying to get the first win with a new team, and the guys have been riding so well together that they really deserved it,” said Groves. “Today was the perfect team effort, and I’m pretty happy to repay them with a win.”
The pace was hot from the start of the race, with all the riders that didn’t fit the mold of pure climber or pure sprinter knowing that this might be their one chance at a stage victory. The early climb of Tawonga Gap saw a much-reduced peloton crest the tough climb, with groups of riders struggling to come back on terms with the front group.
A lot of attacks were shut down as Mitchelton-Scott, EF Education First and Team Sunweb fought it out to decide who went into the early move, with James Whelan (EF Education First), Ben Hill (Team Bridgelane), Carter Turnbull (KordaMentha national team/Inform TM Insight MAKE), James Oram (Black Spokes Cycling), Guilame Boivin (Israel Start Up Nation), Michael Rice (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast), Charles-Etienne Chretien and Tyler Stites (Aevolo) eventually breaking free with 45 kilometres raced.
The cohesion in the early move broke down after sprint jersey leader Hill was rolled for the maximum points at the first intermediate sprint after asking if anyone was going to challenge him. General cycling convention doesn’t require you to say that you plan to sprint, but Hill made it clear to his Bridgelane team car that they had said he could take it.
Cooperation stopped in the front group, with Boivin and Whelan attacking again to establish a slightly more streamlined group, with Rice and Oram dropped. The Aevolo pair were also distanced, but managed to make their way back after a hard chase.
The cooperation resumed and the next surprise struck as Hill cramped dramatically six kilometres before the second intermediate sprint, thwarting his ambitions of keeping the sprint jersey as he and Stites were dropped from the move with 34 kilometres left to the finish.
Team Sunweb had kept a tight leash on the breakaway throughout the stage, with the gap never growing past four minutes despite the 178 kilometre length of the stage and the hour of hard riding to establish the move at the start. The reason for that was the presence of Whelan, the best-placed GC rider in the breakaway, who sat a minute and 11 seconds behind the yellow jersey of Hindley.
The pace increased in the peloton as ARA-Pro Cycling Sunshine Coast joined the front of the race, with their sprinter Rice now back in the fold of the peloton.
The combined chase of the Queensland-based team, Mitchelton-Scott and Team Sunweb saw the break’s advantage tumble and the front group being caught just after the final KOM of Taminick’s gap with sixteen kilometres remaining.
The sprint teams controlled the race into the finish, with Mark O’Brien (KordaMentha National Team), Dylan McKenna (Nero Continental) and Marcus Culey all trying solo assaults off the front of the charging peloton. Culey was the last of the riders to be brought back, within the final kilometre, with the sprinter’s team delivering their riders into the final turn with 300 metres to go.
Hofland started his sprint from the front, but the speed of Groves was too much after a hard day in the saddle, with Dainese second and Mikhel Raim (Israel Start Up Nation) third.
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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger