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by Matt de Neef
February 8, 2020
Photography by Con Chronis
MT BULLER, Australia (CT) – The frustration is clear on Ben Hill’s face as he rolls to a stop. He doesn’t want to chat — he’s keen for the day to be done, to be back with his BridgeLane teammates, but, graciously, he stops anyway.
“I wasted a lot of energy out there and didn’t get anything for it,” he tells reporters. “It was really a pretty disappointing day.”
The Sun Tour is now three stages old and Hill, Australian cycling’s serial escape artist, has been in the break everyday. This is Hill’s thing — get up the road at any possible opportunity, win a jersey, win most aggressive, and just sometimes, win a stage.
Hill started stage 3 in the green jersey of sprint classification leader, but wouldn’t wear it by day’s end. It looked like he would — he’d battled his way into the day’s main breakaway again. But then, at the first intermediate sprint, things took a turn.
“I asked around [in the break] if it was all right if I took the points and everyone was like ‘yes’,” Hill says, clearly angry. “And then they rolled me at the sprint.”
Charles-Etienne Chretien (Aevolo) and James ORAM (Black Spoke) were the culprits, preventing Hill from taking the six points on offer. The two points Hill managed to secure with third across the line were little more than a consolation prize.
At that point, Hill was done. He no longer had any interest in working with those that, to his mind, had deceived him.
“I stopped rolling after the first sprint because I was like ‘I can’t trust you guys now’,” Hill recalls. “And they’re like ‘Alright alright alright, we’ll give you the second sprint if you roll.’”
Hill agreed, but he remained cagey.
“I wasn’t going to leave it to that chance,” he says. “So I was pretty confident I could get the second sprint. And then I cramped again three k before that sprint.”
It wasn’t one of those cramps that you just shake out or that will flee after a quick on-the-bike stretch. Hill’s right adductor had seized entirely.
The 30-year-old tipped his head back and yelled — in both pain and frustration — and pulled over to the side of the road.
“It was really bad — I have a problem with cramping and it was so painful,” Hill says. “I couldn’t keep turning it [the gear]. I tried to adjust a little bit, I stretched it out. The boys weren’t going too hard — I think they were waiting for me — but I just had to stop and stretch it for a bit.”
By the time he got rolling again, Hill’s chance of rejoining the breakaway had evaporated, and with it the chance of more points at the second intermediate sprint.
By the time Hill crossed the finish line, more than eight minutes had passed since Kaden Groves (Mitchelton-Scott) sprinted to the stage win ahead of Alberto Dainese (Sunweb). Dainese had taken the sprint jersey from Hill’s shoulders, the stage result locking him on 18 points with Groves. Hill was in third, on 16 points.
Could Hill be convinced to get out front again the following day?
“Oh gee, I’m pretty exhausted now, but we’ll see,” Hill says with a big sigh. “I guess it’s the only way to try and keep the jersey but I’m really starting to get tired.”
The following morning, as race director Scott McGrory drops the flag in Mansfield, Hill is the first to attack.
Hill got himself in the breakaway on stage 4 and won both intermediate sprints to take back the sprint jersey.
“Yesterday I asked around a bit; today I was like ‘I’m not even asking, I’m just going for it’ and no one even contested it,” Hill said of the first sprint. “So then the second one, they were like ‘You can have it, you can have it’ but I was like ‘I don’t care — I’m sprinting for this like it’s the finish line’ and I went and no one contested it again so it was actually a relatively easy day.”
Hill now leads the points classification by eight points with one stage remaining. He’ll need to get more points at the intermediate sprints again tomorrow to ensure he wins the jersey (Alberto Dainese and Kaden Groves can take green if they win the final stage.)
“It’s not sewn up and I’ll probably have to get more points tomorrow,” he said. “I don’t feel too bad. I got to take it pretty comfortably up that climb [Mt. Buller] whereas the last two days I’ve actually felt pretty tired by the end, and I’ve backed up OK so I’m really hoping I can back up again tomorrow and hopefully get some more points.”