Credit: Con Chronis / Jayco Herald Sun Tour
A tough tussle between Seb Berwick (St George Continental) and Jai Hindley (Team Wunweb) on the steep final slopes of Mt Buller saw Hindley win the 106.6 kilometre stage from Mansfield to cement his grip on the leader’s jersey heading into the final stage.
Hindley responded to Berwick’s late attack in the final two kilometres, latching onto the young climber’s wheel quickly and then having just enough power left at the end to come over the top and claim the stage victory atop Mt Buller.
“It’s really special,” said Hindley. “I’ve said it before but I really love the Sun Tour, this is the third time I’ve done it now. For an Australian guy to race here, it’s really special. I’m a bit lost for words.”
With the stage win, Hindley almost has the race win wrapped up, with the final stage around the Botanic Gardens in Melbourne unlikely to see any upheavals in the overall.
“The plan was to just follow Seb (Berwick), Powless and Damien (Howson). If anyone else reacted we weren’t too fussed. No one panicked when the attacks went. When Seb went in the last few kilometres then I had to go with him. It ended up being the winning move.”
The stage was relatively short, but after a tough start where Team Sunweb had to close down some dangerous moves, before committing to the long slog up the variable climb of Mt Buller.
“The guys did incredible work really, just rode the front since kilometre 1,” said Hindley. “I was so happy to pay off their hard work, it’s a pretty special one.”
Hindley watched as a number of riders tried their luck late on the climb, but had fellow West Australian and long-time teammate, Michael Storer, leading him up the climb. Hindley only had to respond himself to follow when Berwick, third overall before the stage, attacked.
“It’s amazing,” said Hindley. “I’ve know Michael for yonks and to have him ride in the final for me was amazing. He knew exactly what tempo to do, when to accelerate. Just phenomenal, as with the other guys.”
“Hat’s off to him (Berwick) he threw the kitchen sink at me today. He was super impressive, congratulations to him.”
The initial skirmishing out of Mansfield at the start of the stage was fierce, with a lot of attackers dangling off the front of the peloton while the breakaway was getting established. With 20-30 riders present off the front, there was never going to be much leeway given, and eventually a group of six managed to go clear of the main bunch.
Ethan Batt (Black Spokes Cycling), Connor Murtagh (Oliver’s Real Food Racing), Ben Perry (Israel Start Up Nation), Jonas Rutsch (EF Education First), Ben Hill and Ayden Toovey (Team Bridgelane) were the riders who able to form the move.
Michael Rice (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) and David Williams (KordaMentha National Team/Inform TM Insight MAKE) bridged over after a hard effort, with Team Sunweb content to let the riders go. The break worked its way out to an advantage of three minutes and 40 seconds.
Hill took out the intermediate sprints to put himself back into the lead of the sprint classification, though he will have to defend his jersey on the final stage as a Kaden Groves (Mitchelton-Scott) or Alberto Dainese (Team Sunweb) win will see his lead overtaken unless he can add to his tally.
Williams was dropped during the race, with Rutsch having to recover after a front wheel puncture to return to the front.
Sunweb took on the duties of chasing to protect the yellow jersey, chasing at a steady tempo throughout the day to keep the good cooperation of the breakaway.
Hill set himself for a final, hard turn on the lower slopes of the finishing climb of Mt Buller, with Murtagh and Batt dropping away from the front group.
Rutsch and Perry dropped Toovey half-way up the climb, continuing to push their way into the wind, with Team Sunweb pushing the pace at the front of the peloton and dragging the escapees back.
Dion Smith (Mitchelton-Scott) was the first from the peloton to try any major attack in the final stages of the climb, jumping his way across to the leading duo. Perry was dropped soon after, but his Israel Start-Up Nation teammate James Piccoli tried an attack of his own, bridging to the front and then going solo within the final three kilometres.
Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) tried to bridge across to the Canadian and was hanging between the peloton and Piccoli, within the peloton’s sight as the climb entered its hardest gradients.
Berwick launched an all-out attack with one kilometre remaining with only Hindley and Jesse Ewart (Team Sapura) initially able to follow. The attack blew past first Yates then Piccoli, with Ewart dropping off as the pair approached the finish line.
Berwick’s monster turn of pace continued all the way up the final climb, not looking around or asking for help and Hindley was only able to just pass him going into the final corner and the short downhill slope to the line to take the stage win.
Jay Vine (Nero Continental) continued his sparkling turn of form this Tour by finishing a well-paced third, while Mitchelton-Scott hop Damien Howson finished seventh on the day, dropping from second to third on the general classification.
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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger