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GEELONG, Australia (CT) – It’s a tough caper, bike racing. You can come up with the perfect plan, execute that plan impressively well, and still come up short. Just ask Daryl Impey.
Today at Cadel’s Race, for the third year running, Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) finished third. He was fastest at the finish from the group he was in, but unfortunately for the South African, two riders had already crossed the line before him.
Pavel Sivakov (Ineos) had kickstarted the decisive move, attacking with 6 km to go in Australia’s only one-day WorldTour race. Dries Devenyns (Deceuninck-QuickStep) joined Sivakov a few kilometres later and the pair held a gap all the way to the finish.
Devenyns started his sprint from behind but hit the line first, the 36-year-old Belgian improving on his fourth place from 2018 and claiming his first individual victory since the 2016 Tour de Wallonie.
“It’s a very special day for me,” he said a short time later. “I like this race a lot. Each time I’m here I make a good effort. Last year for [Elia] Viviani, also the year before for Viviani. But no, we were in a group and I didn’t feel like Sam [Bennett, the team’s sprinter] and teammates were coming back, so I got involved for the victory.
“I’m happy to sprint for it and take it.”
In the moments before Sivakov made his decisive move, Impey looked to be in the box seat. His team had done everything right.
With about 25 km to go, after the penultimate ascent of the brutal Challambra Crescent, Mitchelton-Scott used a pacy descent to force an unlikely split in the bunch. A group of 16 riders coalesced off the front — among them: four from Mitchelton-Scott, including Impey and Simon Yates; Devenyns; Jens Keukeleire (EF Pro Cycling); Sivakov and Dylan Van Baarle (Ineos); 2018 winner Jay McCarthy (Bora-Hansgrohe); defending champion Elia Viviani (Cofidis) and teammate Nathan Haas; and Viviani’s fellow sprinter Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal).
With two notable sprinters in the lead group, Mitchelton-Scott had to try splitting it again. So that’s what they did.
On the final ascent of Challambra Crescent, just 9.4 km from the finish, Yates attacked hard and splintered the lead group beautifully.
“He went a bit earlier than I expected but we had to take the race on there I think,” Impey said later. “A lot of guys were just comfortable with where we were at. And we really needed to try to whittle that group down.”
By the bottom of the descent that followed, the race was down to just six riders: Yates, Impey, Sivakov, McCarthy, Devenyns and Keukeleire.
As the road ramped back up — into the final climb of the day — the race-winning moves began. Keukeleire tried, and so did Devenyns, but it wasn’t until Sivakov’s salvo that things really lit up.
“I saw everyone was on the limit,” Sivakov said. “I knew I wasn’t the fastest guy in the group so I thought ‘Yeah, I have to try to go away if I want to win.’ I almost did it.”
While Yates had forced the decisive split a few kilometres earlier, he was off the back by the time Sivakov had set sail. Impey was on his own.
“I thought everything was pretty good up until the last climb,” a disappointed Impey said. “Unfortunately, we lost Yatesy there.
Not only that, but Van Baarle had battled his way back to the front, and was able to support Sivakov from behind.
“I was actually on the front when Sivakov went and I kind of kept him within striking distance and thought, ‘Well, we’ll all just roll through here’” said Impey. “But Dylan Van Baarle was kind of blocking the door for the other guys to come through and they didn’t really come around either. So I just kept pushing a little bit.
“But then Dries went and once he got there I thought ‘Oh, they might actually play cat-and-mouse — it might actually be better for us.’ But it wasn’t to be.”
Devenyns joined Sivakov with 3.8 km remaining and the pair worked together on the slight downhill run to the finish on Geelong’s waterfront. Behind them, there was no such collaboration. Whether unwilling to tow the fast-finishing Impey to the line, or simply unable to contribute, Keukeleire, McCarthy and Van Baarle did little to help the chase.
“I knew that they were going to sit me for a while,” Impey said. “I could already see it. But I really didn’t want to drag them until 500 yards to go and just get hit over. I tried to keep it close but the guys didn’t want to work and I had to kind of gauge my effort as well. But there in the final you could see that I think they were pretty empty as well.
“That being said, the two guys in front rode a great race — they took their chances. I think they knew we were going to watch each other and hats off to them.”
Devenyns and Sivakov approach the finish line with the Impey group mere seconds behind. Devenyns admits he wasn’t confident of beating Sivakov on the line.
“I gave myself like a 50% chance — it’s not good,” Devenyns said with a smirk. “I don’t really know how good his sprint is. Normally a good climber has normally a less good punch. So I don’t think we’re both fast.”
Sivakov was similarly unsure of himself.
“I knew he is a bit faster than me — he’s a bit more explosive,” Sivakov said. “But then, obviously he was on my wheel in the final. So I thought, ‘I don’t want to ride really slow because otherwise he’s got a bit more of a kick and he will take off really fast.’
“I kept quite a high speed and actually was closer than I expected during the sprint. I saw him coming on the left, but I just missed a little bit.”
Impey, meanwhile, will end his Australian campaign with a sense of frustration. He and his team mounted a spirited defence of their Tour Down Under title last week, but the 35-year-old ultimately fell short on Willunga Hill. He and his team were similarly impressive at Cadel’s Race today but Impey would again have to settle for third.
But Impey’s disappointment will be tempered by the knowledge that, as at Tour Down Under, he and his team did all they could.
“We did exactly as we planned,” Impey said. “We wanted to take the race on from two laps to go and the boys did an amazing job.”
On the day, though, an amazing job wasn’t quite enough to take the win.
“That’s bike racing,” Impey said. “You go all in, and that’s how it is.”