Hindley extends Sun Tour lead atop Mt Buller ahead of brilliant Berwick

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MOUNT BULLER, Australia (CT) – For many riders, second is the worst place to be. So close to victory, but without any of the associated glory. Today at the Mt. Buller Alpine Resort, Seb Berwick (St. George) was delighted with second place, and justifiably so.

On the 15 km stage-ending climb to stage 4 of the Sun Tour, the 20-year-old Continental rider went toe-to-toe with a swathe of WorldTour riders and came away with a brilliant second place, adding to his third on the Falls Creek summit finish two days earlier.

Berwick made his move under the 1km-to-go banner, on the steepest part on the climb — the aptly named Hell Corner. Only the overall leader Jai Hindley (Sunweb) could follow and the pair soon swept up lone leader James Piccoli (Israel Start-Up Nation).

“Me and Dave Sanders [St George sports director], we did this bloody last k and a half four times after dinner yesterday in the car,” Berwick said with a smile later. “He was hyping me up for that last bit. And he’s just like ‘If you’ve got anything just go now matey’.

“[At a] k and a half I thought ‘Oh, maybe I should go [but it’s] still a big group’ and then going around that bend with a k to go I just thought ‘Yeah, let’s go. If they can hold on, good on them. If I win, shit, that’s great.”

Hindley led around the final corner and across the line. In doing so he extended his overall lead and all but secured the overall title with just one stage remaining. But just behind him, Berwick confirmed that Thursday’s ride to Falls Creek was far from a fluke and that the Queenslander has a massive future ahead of him.

“I’m pretty happy with that,” Berwick said. “The team rode well all day, helped me get out of wind, keep me up the front, put me in perfect position at the climb — they were just so good today for me.

“What did I have to do? A 30-minute effort and that’s all. So [I’m] happy for the team, for myself. It’s a great result.”

Berwick earned another day in the best young rider jersey with second on the stage.

A breakaway of eight led the race for much of the day, with Ben Hill (BridgeLane) up the road for the fourth-straight day to reclaim his points jersey. Also up the road: Ben Perry (Israel Start-Up Nation), Ayden Toovey (BridgeLane) and Jonas Rutsch (EF Pro Cycling).

The break still had three minutes as they started the final climb of the day, 15 km from the line. Rutsch attacked almost immediately, thinning the lead group to just he Toovey and Perry. In the bunch, Sunweb set a hard tempo, reducing the gap and setting up Hindley.

In the final 5 km a flurry of attacks saw Dion Smith and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) join the front before eventually dropping back. Rutsch was the last to be caught before Piccoli made his move with around 3 km to go.

All the while, Hindley just bided his time, benefiting from an impressive support ride from his Sunweb teammates.

“The plan was to just follow Seb [Berwick], [Neilson] Powless [EF] and Damien [Howson – Mitchelton-Scott] and if anyone else reacted, we weren’t too fussed,” Hindley said. “The guys rode perfect tempo for me the whole day and especially the last climb and no one panicked when the attacks went.

“And then when Seb went in the final few k then I had to go with him and it ended up being the winning move.”

Hindley followed Berwick’s wheel through the final kilometre and pounced just before the final corner, 100 metres from the line.

“I knew looking at the finish line today I had to be first into that corner,” Hindley said, after taking Sunweb’s third stage win in four days. “So I just made sure I was first in. To get another win it’s pretty nice.”

Coming into the stage, Howson had been sitting second overall, just four seconds off Hindley’s lead. But the overall winner of the 2017 edition struggled on the final climb to Mt. Buller.

“I knew I didn’t have the best of legs,” Howson said. “First 6 km I was trying to just stay calm. I had the boys around me, which kept me motivated to do the best ride I could. The legs weren’t feeling fantastic and I knew I couldn’t match the acceleration once it would come.

“For me, it was solid enough with the headwind that I could hold the wheels and luckily I had Cam [Meyer] and Schultzy [Nick Schultz] around me all the way essentially to the line to limit my losses. I think it will be enough to get me another podium here.”

Howson finished the day in seventh place, 22 seconds behind Hindley and Berwick. Barring a major mishap in tomorrow’s final stage around Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens, Howson will hold on to finish third at the Sun Tour for the third time in five years.

Three years after finishing second overall at the Sun Tour, behind Howson, Hindley will almost certainly improve on that 2017 result and take the biggest success of his young career.

“It’s such a historic race for Australian cycling,” Hindley said. “To possibly get my name onto that trophy: that’s really special.”

And as for Berwick, well, he’s set to finish second overall — a breakout performance for an exciting young talent who missed last year’s tour after crashing while riding to stage 1. He’s hoping that his performance this week is only the start of something much bigger.

“I really want to go WorldTour, to the top of cycling,” Berwick said. “That’s the dream, to be able to make a living out of the sport. I just couldn’t think of anything better to do with my life really, to be honest.

“Hopefully people will see this and go ‘Shit, maybe he’s alright at riding bikes.’”

At this point, that seems beyond doubt. And if Berwick is the superstitious type, he’ll do well to check out the results from the last time a Sun Tour stage finished atop Mt. Buller. Second on stage 4 at the 2008 edition: one Christopher Froome.

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