ADELAIDE, Australia (CT) – On stage 1 of last year’s Tour Down Under, Jack Bobridge escaped from the day-long breakaway and rode to a thrilling victory ahead of a fast-finishing peloton. In doing so, he kicked off what would become a memorable week for the UniSA-Australia national team.
In addition to his win, Bobridge spent a day in the leader’s ochre jersey and would ultimately win the KOM jersey with a dogged display on the race’s queen stage. Add Steele von Hoff’s stage 4 sprint victory to the mix and UniSA-Australia was one of the strongest-performing teams in last year’s race.
One year on, it’s going to be hard for this year’s national team squad to replicate the success of 2015.
“They’ve really put the pressure on, haven’t they?”, said Pat Shaw, a veteran of the Australian domestic racing scene but a first-timer at the Tour Down Under. “And then obviously the years [previous] – Jack Haig, white jersey [in 2014, as a 20-year-old – ed.]; Rohan Dennis [fifth on GC in 2013 – ed.] …”
But while Shaw and his teammates are aware of what their predecessors have achieved, there’s a feeling of calm among this year’s squad.
“I think a relaxed approached and a smart approach is best,” Shaw told CyclingTips at the team launch in Adelaide. “We’ll go in relaxed and we know what we want to do; we know what needs to be done.”
If the team’s performances are anything to go by, UniSA-Australia will be keen to go on the attack throughout the week; to get in the early breakaways and show off the team’s sponsor, the University of South Australia.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2015, UniSA has now sponsored a team at the Tour Down Under for 16 of the 18 years the race has been in existence. The university hopes this association will continue long into the future.
“We’re in it for the long haul,” said the university’s vice chancellor, David Lloyd. “This is a very important event for us as a university because it’s about the next generation, it’s about new talent, it’s about bringing forward fitness in the community. But it’s also about underdogs and success.”
And the team has had no shortage of success in its 16 years. In all it has netted 13 stage wins, a host of classification jerseys and five top-five finishes on GC, including Patrick Jonker’s win in 2004. While getting TV time for UniSA will be a key objective in 2016, Pat Shaw believes that, with a bit of luck, the team has a genuine chance of hitting the winners’ list again.
“I think if the right 50-50 line-call goes our way and we get a bit lucky, we can pull off a stage win,” Shaw said. “I’m also really excited about our young riders as well. Chris and Luke Hamilton are both really prolific climbers for their age.
“Obviously this is not an U23 event and we understand that and we’re respecting the level they’re at but we still want to achieve great things.”
Chris and Lucas Hamilton (no relation) both earned their place in the UniSA-Australia squad with a stellar ride at last week’s Australian Road Nationals. Competing in the U23 men’s road race, the pair broke away from the peloton with a couple laps to go and rode to the finish together, sprinting against one another for the win. Chris took a narrow victory, but both secured a berth in their first WorldTour race.
According to Shaw, the team will likely ride in support of the two Hamiltons on stage 3 (which features the steep Corkscrew Road 7km from the finish) and stage 5 (which ends at the top of Willunga Hill).
“We’ll try and give them the best position to start the climbs, and if they’re in the best position they’ll climb as good or close to as good as anyone else here,” Shaw said. “They’re very good climbers. But, they’re young. So don’t put any pressure on them. Generally the more pressure you apply the less talent you get out of them.”
At 19, Lucas Hamilton is the youngest rider in this year’s Tour Down Under but he speaks with a maturity beyond his years. He is quietly confident in his ability to have an impact on this week’s race.
“I’d like to try and do something, whether that’s on the climbs or getting into some sort of jersey — a young rider or polka dot or whatever,” Hamilton told reporters at the team launch in Adelaide today. “Obviously [Jack] Haig has shown that’s possible to do coming from an Australian racing background.”
But like his more experienced teammate in Pat Shaw, Hamilton appears relaxed ahead of the race. Relaxed, but ready to learn.
“I hope to go away with a better understanding and idea of where I am at compared to the professionals,” Hamilton said. “I am the youngest in the race so it’s hard to judge, because I don’t get to race these guys very often, where I actually am.
“I don’t think I am too stressed whether I am ages away or close by, as once again I am young.”
In addition to Lucas Hamilton, Chris Hamilton, and Pat Shaw, this year’s UniSA-Australia team will feature 2015 TDU stage winner Steele von Hoff, two-time Grafton to Inverell winner Sean Lake, talented youngster Pat Lane and veteran domestic sprinter Anthony Giacoppo. The team will once be lead by sports director Dave Sanders.