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Team Sky could have ridden conservatively. They could have just focused on getting Dylan van Baarle safely across the line on bunch time, to ensure overall victory at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. They could have let a break stay away. But in the end Sky did none of those things.
It would seem that riding conservatively was not in Sky’s 2019 Sun Tour playbook.
Coming into today’s final stage, they weren’t content with one stage win, with winning the race overall, and with a slew of other jerseys besides. They wanted more. And by day’s end they had it.
A group of six got up the road on a tough circuit around Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens but the leaders were never given more than a minute by the bunch behind. Sky’s Kenny Elissonde did the lion’s share of the pacemaking with teammate Christian Knees pitching in as well.
The race came back together on the final lap as Sky lined it out for young sprinter Kristoffer Halvorsen. Van Baarle was part of the lead-out train too, the overall leader riding in support of his young Norwegian teammate.
Halvorsen was first across the line, just as Sky drew it up. Dion Smith (Mitchelton-Scott) charged through for second while Brenton Jones (Korda Mentha-Australia) took third.
Sky’s haul from the 2019 Sun Tour makes for impressive reading. Overall victory, three inside the top 10 on GC, two stage wins, the best young rider classification, the KOM classification, and the teams classification. Van Baarle was just two points away from taking the sprint classification from Ayden Toovey (BridgeLane) as well.
And while Sky seemed disinclined to share the spoils with other teams this week, they were certainly happy to share amongst themselves. Of the seven riders on the startlist, three won a classification: Van Baarle (GC), Knees (KOM) and Pavel Sivakov (best young rider). Another two, Doull and Halvorsen, won a stage. The only two remaining were both instrumental in setting the team up for success throughout the week — Elissonde with his tireless work on the front, plus third on stage 2; Rowe by splitting the bunch on stage 2, and for forging the winning move with Doull on stage 3.
It was a true team performance, and all from a team that was missing its biggest stars, including 2016 winner Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, and Wout Poels.
For 22-year-old Halvorsen, the win is his first in the pro ranks; his first since joining Team Sky in 2018. He’s quick to acknowledge the support he had on today’s fifth and final stage; the faith the team placed in him.
“The team was working really good all day,” he said. “I think it was three laps to go they [the break] had 40 seconds or something so I was thinking ‘Oh we’ll have to go fast the two next laps.’ But the team was doing a really good job and in the end we had pretty good control because the last two k’s we saw them just 10 seconds in front of us and in the climb it was just going full gas from the bottom.
“For me it was just [about trying] to stay on the wheel of Owain [Doull] and he will take me in a good position and he did a really good job in the end. When he was 150 metres to go I just tried to be the first man over the line and I’m really happy that I can do that.”
For Halvorsen, winner of the 2016 U23 world road title, the win was case of exorcising some demons. A little over 12 months ago Halvorsen was making his Team Sky debut at the People’s Choice Classic — the curtain-raiser criterium before the Santos Tour Down Under. With 300m to go in the race, he crashed into the barriers, breaking a bone in his hand and ending his Australian campaign before it had really begun.
A year on, Halvorsen now has some good memories to take away from Australia.
“Last year when I start here I was really bad,” he said. “I was crashing in the first criterium in Down Under. So completely different start this year. It’s really good to get through these two races [TDU and Sun Tour] and also with a win — it’s really nice for our confidence.”
Halvorsen’s Dutch teammate will also draw confidence from his success at the 2019 Sun Tour — van Baarle’s is another case of success following injury. On stage 12 of last year’s Vuelta a España the Dutchman crashed into a member of the race organisation after finishing second on the day. He fractured his pelvis in the fall, and while he was able to finish the next day, that was the end of his Vuelta and ultimately his season.
It took him eight weeks to get back on the bike.
“Yeah I was pretty long out and was suffering a lot,” Van Baarle said after stage 4 of the Sun Tour. “I had a lot of pain but I managed to come back also because of the team — they really helped me really well. I started early this season to pick up the races that I missed last season.”
The early start to van Baarle’s season seems to have gone well. So too for Team Sky who will begin their European campaign with a spring in their step. It’s an important year for the team — they’re on the lookout for a new title sponsor now that Sky’s decade-long association with the team is coming to a close. Every win will help in that quest.
Hopefully for Sky’s sake, success at the Sun Tour is only the beginning. And hopefully for fans of the sport, Sky continue to race as aggressively as they have in Victoria this past week.
Follow the link to full results from stage 5 of the 2019 Jayco Herald Sun Tour.