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At a glance, it might look just like last year’s Tour Down Under. Richie Porte wins on Willunga Hill, again, and finishes second overall. Daryl Impey wins the overall again after an impressive podium finish on Willunga. But don’t be fooled — the results sheet doesn’t tell the full story of the 2019 Tour Down Under.
Until 10km to go in the penultimate stage it looked like Paddy Bevin was going to win the race overall. He would have been a more than deserving winner. But as we now know, it wasn’t to be. Regardless, the story of the 2019 Tour Down Under is that of Bevin impressive rise and heartbreaking fall.
His breakaway ride on stage 1 set the tone. It was an opportunistic move that shook up the GC battle from kilometre zero, with Bevin netting five valuable seconds. His wily sprint win into Angaston the following day surprised many, and took him from outsider to genuine contender.
He finished fifth on a lumpy day into Uraidla, then second on the decisive Corkscrew Road stage. And on stage 5, he started well by taking even more time on the climbers. And then it all fell apart with a high-speed crash on the run-in to Strathalbyn.
That Bevin was able to start today’s final stage spoke volumes of his courage. Not that it was ever in question — after all, he did complete the 2017 Tour de France after breaking his foot on the opening stage.
“I’ll give it everything I have left to defend this lead,” a defiant Bevin said before stage 6. “I’ve done five days of building a buffer and they’re going to have and come and take it [the jersey] off me.”
Despite bruised ribs that gave him considerable grief, Bevin found it easy enough to sit in the bunch for much the stage. So much so that he was “entertaining thoughts” of being able to defend the overall lead up two ascents of Willunga Hill. But when the race hit the first of those ascents, it was clear the Kiwi was struggling.
“I finally started fighting in the run up to the climb and I was in the red there — I was in trouble,” he said afterwards. “So I tried to just regain my composure as we hit the climb and try and push on but I couldn’t do it.
“It’s a pretty awful feeling to just watch it all just ride up the road.”
Bevin battled on, finishing 80th on the stage, more than five minutes behind the winning time of Porte and Impey. With that he slipped down to 41st overall — a result that says little about the week he had.
Bevin deserved to win the race overall and likely would have were it not for his crash. He’d started the final stage with a seven-second buffer over Impey and given the pair were evenly matched on Corkscrew Road on stage 4, it’s hard to imagine the Kiwi being distanced by his South African rival.
Impey was quick to offer his condolences to Bevin, acknowledging that the latter would have been a worthy victor.
“I felt sorry for Paddy — it’s very unfortunate,” Impey said post-victory. “I was looking forward to having a nice battle against him today and it’s very sad that he …. wasn’t in his best condition due to the crash.
“I feel he was a little bit robbed in the race but that’s bike racing and there’s nothing more to really say about it. But he’s got guts. On the startline today you could see he was hurting, you could see he wasn’t in good shape and in a good way.
“So already on the first lap when we heard he was in trouble, I felt sorry for him because definitely in this bike race he’s probably been the most consistent and would have been a really deserving winner as well.”
Of course, Impey is also a deserving winner. You don’t win the Tour Down Under two years in a row without being a talented racer. In fact, he’s the first male rider to achieve that feat.
To win, Impey had to show the sort of versatility that’s become a hallmark of winners of this race. He took bonus seconds where he could, he won a stage (and more bonus seconds with it), and he climbed well enough to nullify the advantage of the climbers.
Case in point today’s final stage where Impey finished on the same time as stage winner Porte. No one’s gone nearly as close to beating Porte on Willunga as he and Wout Poels did today.
“We knew coming into Willunga we wanted to have about 20 seconds on the climbing group that was here and actually in the end it didn’t really matter that much,” Impey said post-race. “But I had a great climb today and I think we just fought really hard.
“Obviously after getting that win [on stage 4] that gave us a lot of momentum and the team started to really get behind it although they were already. We really started believing we had a chance to win the race.”
Porte, meanwhile, is an embodiment of the fact the Tour Down Under truly is a race for the all-rounders. That it’s not enough to be an excellent climber if you want to win the overall — you also need to have a fast finish so you can contend for bonus seconds.
Porte’s now won on Willunga six years in a row but has only won the Tour Down Under once, and that was in a year the race had a second uphill finish. His record in the past five years reads four seconds and a first.
“It’s a hard race for a rider like me to win,” Porte admitted post-race. “It’s a shame there’s not another hilltop finish there through the week but to win six in a row with a new team, Trek-Segafredo, it’s a nice way to start.”
There’s no denying that.
And so, after six days of racing, we end up in the same place as last year: Porte winning on Willunga to take second place overall, Impey winning the overall. But the journey to get there was much different to 2018. For those that witnessed it, the 2019 Tour Down Under will be remembered as much for the exploits of Paddy Bevin as it will for those who took home the most significant silverware.
Bevin should have won the race, and deserved to. But despite the way it ended, the 27-year-old can still regard his outing as a success. While his victory in the points classification will feel like a consolation prize, he’s now shown his ability to perform on the WorldTour stage. An even bigger prize surely isn’t far away.
“I had a great time here, an absolute blast coming here and racing from kilometre 0 and I plan on sticking to that all year,” Bevin said. “I’m going to go out and scrap for everything all year. This race really only sets a precedent for what’s ahead.
“It’s such a shame to do all of that and have if come tumbling down but there’ll be another race and if nothing else I’ll be back at the Tour Down Under next year ready to roll my sleeves up and box on again.”