Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.
FALLS CREEK, Australia (CT) – On paper, Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) should have won stage 2 of the 2020 Herald Sun Tour. He’s a Grand Tour winner, a winner of multiple stages at all Grand Tours, and comfortably the strongest climber on the startlist.
But mid-season form isn’t the same as early-season form. And sometimes even the best in the world have an off day.
Today, on the 30 km stage-ending climb to Falls Creek, Yates was dropped from an elite lead group with around 5.5 km to go. It caught most onlookers by surprise and prompted Mitchelton-Scott to enact Plan B: 2017 winner on this mountain (and overall), Damien Howson.
Howson was there in the final sprint of three, but his wasn’t the first wheel across the line. That honour went to Jai Hindley (Sunweb) who took Sunweb’s second stage win in as many days after finishing second behind Howson on the same climb three years ago. Third across the line was the promising young Queenslander Seb Berwick (St. George), the 20-year-old punching well above his weight in the company of WorldTour riders.
For Hindley, the win was made all the more satisfying by having some familial support at the finish line.
“I really love this climb and I came in second last time I did it so to get the win today is pretty special to me,” he said. “I have family who live in Mount Beauty [at the start of the Falls Creek climb] and they’re here today and it’s super nice of them to come watch and catch up with them and put on a good ride.”
Like most, Hindley was surprised when Yates dropped off the pace.
“I thought he was just sitting back in the group and waiting to go,” he said. “And then I heard over the radio that he was dropping. In the end it didn’t really change our team plan. The guys were always gonna ride hard tempo towards the end there. So we did that and the guys broke the group up a lot and yeah, it was a fantastic job by the guys and I can’t thank them enough.”
Mitchelton-Scott did much of the pacemaking on the final climb to Falls Creek after the last of the day’s attackers — Angus Lyons (Oliver’s Real Food Racing)– was caught. But towards the top it was Sunweb that was left with the numerical advantage .
Lachlan Morton (EF) had attacked with a little under 10 km to go but when Yates was dropped a few kilometres later, Sunweb increased the tempo and Morton was caught. When the dust settled, with 3.2 km to go, just seven riders remained. Of those seven, three were from Sunweb (Hindley, Michael Storer and Rob Power).
There were attacks aplenty in the final kilometres as seven became five: Hindley, Howson, Berwick, Neilson Powless (EF) and Storer. In what was a true breakout ride, Continental rider Berwick found himself as the only non-WorldTour rider in the final selection.
“I knew I was on pretty good form after nationals coming second at U23 champs,” Berwick said. “But against the WorldTour blokes you don’t really fully know until you’re actually there in the last k’s.”
Despite being unsure of himself, Berwick was far from overawed. Indeed, he even put in a few attacks.
“At one point I looked back and I saw there was a gap and there was only five of us,” Berwick said. “And I’m like ‘Geez, I’m feeling all right for only five left.’ So I thought if there’s only five they must be hurtin’. So I just tried a couple of things.
“You can’t really be scared if you’re there.”
When it came to the final 300 metres, only Hindley, Howson and Berwick remained.
“I think everyone was pretty gassed at the end — no one could really get away,” Hindley said. “Damo and Seb — they were super strong and I couldn’t shake them. In the end I actually hit out pretty early — probably way too early — and then had to take a step back and get second wind and then really just went for it with like a hundred metres to go and came around Seb.”
Howson thought he might have had his second win in as many visits to Falls Creek, but it wasn’t to be.
“That last 300 meters was an endless effort and I could taste the victory, but I knew at the same time it was going to take a big effort,” Howson said after a lengthy stint spent lying on the road post-race, recovering from the effort. “Second today is not too bad.”
Hindley’s victory moves the 23-year-old West Australian into the overall lead with three stages remaining. It’s close though: just time bonuses from today’s finish separate him, Howson (+4 seconds) and Berwick (+6 seconds).
The GC will again come into focus on Saturday’s stage 4 which finishes at the Mt. Buller ski resort after a 16 km stage-ending climb. It’s there that the 2020 Sun Tour will be decided.
Follow the link for full results from stage 2 of the 2020 Jayco Herald Sun Tour.