White leads Aussie sweep at Tour de Taiwan

Nick White and Ben Hill celebrate after White seals the overall win at the Tour de Taiwan Credit: Hikari Media/Team Bridgelane

It was an Australian clean sweep of the general classification at the Tour de Taiwan, with Nick White (Team Bridgelane) stealing the leader’s jersey on the last day from Ryan Cavanagh (St George Continental) with Marcus Culey (Team Sapura) also plotting a final stage raid to catapult himself into third overall.

A jubilant Nick White celebrated his first career UCI-classified tour victory, claiming the 2.1 event five-stage event on the final stage after a tight battle for bonus seconds that eventually saw the Ballarat local on the top step of the podium, with fellow Australians Cavanagh and Culey filling out the top three.

Cavanagh kicked things off from an Australian perspective, winning Stage 2 and taking the leader’s jersey. The Queenslander spoke to Australian Cycling Insider on how the race played out.

“It was a pretty interesting tour in the sense that it was always going to come down to time bonuses,” said Cavanagh. “I think it was all bunch finishes, even on Stage 2 last year, so it was always going to come down to a lot of sprints.

“It was good to get a stage win early. I knew I was going well, but I was stoked to get that result. From there it was always going to be tough with Whitey being such a good sprinter, not just Whitey, there were other quick guys going for the intermediates. With 20 seconds in bonuses up for grabs every day, it made it really tough.

The 156.5 kilometre stage from Hsinchu to Shigang had a lumpy finish, the right sort of terrain for a late attack to take the win, which saw Cavanagh launch within the final two kilometres to steal away for the victory.

“It was up and down for the last 20 kilometres, and a sort of gradual uphill for the final five or six kilometres,” said Cavanagh of his stage 2 victory. “Nothing more than a few seven per cent sections, so nothing too steep. From two kilometres to go it was pretty rolling and twisty.

“I watched the stage finish from the year before, ahead of the stage. If you had good legs it was possible to get away and out of sight pretty quickly. If there wasn’t a team doing a big leadout then it would be hard to bring someone back and if there was any hesitation I’d be a decent chance.

“I saw James Oram, Benny Hill and one other ahead, about to be brought back and I just jumped and hit them when they were going their slowest. I think they looked around a bit and didn’t commit straight away which gave me a big enough gap to stay away.”

So fast was Cavanagh descending, that when he swung through the final corner, he nearly collided with a marshal on the exit, but Cavanagh was able to avoid a crash and drove all the way to the finish to claim the win.

“He (the marshal) was standing at the widest point of that final corner and I was coming pretty fast,” said Cavanagh. “I think I gave him a bit of a fright… bet he got more than he bargained for doing his job that day!”

After Cavanagh had taken over the yellow leader’s jersey with victory on Stage 2, the Queenslander and his St George Continental team were faced with the hard task of fending off the majority of the field breathing down his neck at just 22 seconds in arrears.

The fact that one of them was Nick White made the task even harder. The 22-year-old built his overall win from his Stage 3 victory, and had to get the better of dominant American sprinter Eric Young (Elevate-Webiplex) who claimed three victories during the tour in bunch sprints. White spoke to Australian Cycling Insider after the conclusion of the race.

“We had Ayden Toovey and Sam Jenner in the break, so we didn’t have to do any work all day,” said White of Stage 3. “If the break won, that would be pretty good as Ayden’s a quick finisher and he’d be pretty good on GC then. I managed to battle enough to get over the climbs on the day and the peloton rode easy enough as well.

“Coming down to the finish it was pretty obvious that the break would be caught. Ben gave me a ripper leadout out with 250 metres to go and I got the right line through the finish there and get over Eric (Young). It was good to get the best of him one of a few battles, the rest I lost.”

That put White 12 seconds behind Cavanagh on the general classification, with the ever-active Hill also a danger for the Australian squad at 17 seconds adrift.

Stage 4 saw a decisive moment for the general classification battle, with White slipping into the breakaway and picking up bonus seconds at the intermediate sprints before finishing third in the bunch sprint to claw back yet more important seconds.

“It was dumb luck, getting in that breakaway,” said White. “In terms of tactics it wasn’t a smart one on paper – sending the guy third on the general classification up the road on a sprint day. We were pretty lucky that the break let me sit there, I didn’t have to pull a turn into the first intermediate sprint and then we stayed away for both of them as well, so that was very lucky. There was no team that was able to ride the break back that quickly after it had been such a hard start to the stage.”

Cavanagh described the moment from the opposite perspective, having to watch as White took six bonus seconds from the day’s intermediates, with his ultimate margin of victory just four seconds.

“The second last day, that was my tactical error,” said Cavanagh. “I thought it was another Bridgelane rider that went away, but it was him. They let him sit on, I’ve no idea why they did that, but it’s just one of those things that happens in Asia sometimes. You just have to roll with it.”

After White’s ‘dumb luck’ on Stage 4, the Victorian went into the final day of racing with just two seconds to make up on Cavanagh and a sprint finish that suited White’s abilities. However, it was Marcus Culey who proved to be the big mover on the day, vaulting his way up the general classification from tenth to third and securing the mountains jersey with a strong breakaway ride with fellow Aussie Elliot Schultz (Memil CCN) for company. Culey described to Australian Cycling Insider his view of the race during the week in Taiwan.

“I missed the move on the final stage and Bridgelane brought it back for me and I managed to jump in the next one with a big group of seventeen and attacked it with Elliot Schultz,” said Culey. “He wasn’t anywhere on GC, so he said I could have all the sprints and the KOM, which was good enough to bump me up on GC and in the mountains jersey as well.”

Culey used to be a more minor name within Australian and Asian cycling, but top results, particularly from breakaway moves, have seen the Team Sapura rider more closely marked in recent racing.

“It’s incredibly difficult for me to get in a break now because everyone knows,” lamented Culey. “If you just keep going and going eventually you can get away but it’s a lot harder.

“I think I’ve got to do some intensity than all this sub-threshold while I’m out training,” he said half-jokingly. “No, last year I think I got in the break three or four times and this time I was trying every day but I couldn’t as I’m more marked, especially when there’s Australians at the race. I got caught with two kilometres to go in both Stage 3 and Stage 5.”

“Cav (Ryan Cavanagh) rode really well,” said Culey. “I’d been trying a few times beforehand and Ben Hill put in a really big attack and cooked himself but Cav really picked the right moment.  

“He really deserved it, he was probably the rider of the race and St George rode really well to defend it, probably the team of the race. Nick’s just got that kick to take those bonus seconds.”

White’s general clasisification went all the way to the final sprint, claiming second behind Young to secure just enough bonus seconds to overtake Cavanagh and claim his maiden UCI tour win. White’s prowess in the sprints, plus the Stage 4 move proved just enough to overhaul Cavanagh’s impressive Stage 2 performance.

“There were just classic Asian bunch kicks,” said White of the sprints. “A bit sketchy at times, a lot going on and a bit messy but it was a lot of fun. I do love racing in Asia and don’t mind a bit of boxing on. The guys on the team really helped put me in position, so there’s a lot to thank them for.

The performance was even more impressive given that White was less than a month removed from a nasty Herald Sun Tour crash which saw him break some ribs and suffer a partially collapsed lung. He then backed up just over a week later for the Melbourne to Warrnambool, with White crediting his participation in the 267 kilometre race with his form in Taiwan.

“Warrny was one of those things I really needed to do,” said White. “It gave me a goal to get back on the bike and get training again, push through the pain a bit, rather than sitting around in bed feeling sorry for myself.”

“I was pretty sore for a few days after the race, so I had to manage my way through that. I couldn’t do a lot of hard training but enough to keep me going to Taiwan. Right now, the ribs are still sore obviously, but it’s nothing I can’t deal with in the race. It was definitely a lot less painful than doing the Warnny, I’m a bit sore now, but it’s not too bad and certainly people have ridden around with a lot worse.”

(L to R) Marcus Culey, Eric Young, Nick White and Chun Kai Feng Credit: Hikari Media/ Team Bridgelane

For Cavanagh, the feeling of being so close to another Asia Tour win stung, but he was happy with the performance of himself and the team.

“It was annoying, if there was a windy day or another really hard day it would have been good but all these long, flat days. It got to be a bit more interesting with five riders rather than six or seven, deciding which riders to let go and who was going to be good for us.

“I made the mistake on the second last stage with Nick, I’ll put my hand up and take responsibility for that. Losing it on the final day…. It’s a bit annoying but that’s life sometimes. If you told me at the start of the race that I’d finish in second, I’d have been happy with that.”

St George Continental had received a late call-up for the race and had to rush a team together at the last moment, and Cavanagh lauded their efforts against tough competition.

“We had a good group of guys and we did what we could,” said Cavanagh. “We weren’t the strongest team in the race, that was probably Bridgelane or Burgos in raw horsepower, we had to keep following to keep the moves going and give ourselves a free ride for as long as we could. Then, when we needed to work it was about keeping it close enough for the sprint teams to be interested, so they’d ride it to the end after a point.”

Three Australians at the top on the general classification, less than a year from the time that Ben Dyball’s performances dominated the Asian scene, and it appears that Australian cyclists are currently the major force in these sort of races.

“That’s how it’s going,” said Cavanagh. “The top riders in Asia are pretty consistently Australian, which makes sense really from where we are coming from in, we’re all over these sort of races.”

Cavanagh will next line up in early April to defend his Tour of Thailand GC win from last season, while White and Culey will be contesting the Oceania championships/Tour de Brisbane at the same time.

By Jamie Finch-Penninger