Ian Stannard handed Team Sky their third victory of the 2017 Jayco Herald Sun Tour in Australia, winning the final stage in Kingslake on Sunday, as Damien Howson (Orica-Scott) sealed the overall honours.
The hilly circuit navigated by the riders for the final stage was perfect Stannard territory, as he put himself into the day's large escape group on the first of four laps.
The Essex rider attacked to go solo in the final kilometre, but was nearly caught on the line as he sat up to celebrate. Aaron Gate (Aqua Blue Sport) was the man to come close to upsetting Stannard's moment of glory, placing second. Taco van der Hoorn (Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij) was third.
"I knew the guys wanted to spice it up behind and I wasn't quite sure how I felt," Stannard said of the battle for the general classification. "I had a big day chasing for that last 30km yesterday and I went pretty deep.
"I didn't feel great early on but I came round toward the end of the race. I knew they wanted to come up so I thought I might as well see if I could play the game a bit and hang on."
Sky's Danny van Poppel had claimed the opening prologue, and Stannard's fellow Classics leader Luke Rowe won stage two making giving the British team cause to celebrate, despite missing out in the general classification...
Defending champion Chris Froome (Team Sky) had tried to repeat his victory from last year, producing some attacking riding on the final, rain-affected stage. He was accompanied by Sky new recruit Kenny Elissonde, who started the day in third spot overall.
However, Howson once again showed his current form, matching all the accelerations and digs from his rivals on the climbs to safely retain the overall lead.
Howson took the lead after winning stage one, and held on to the yellow jersey until the finale. It marks Howson's first ever overall victory, as the Australian usually serves as a domestique.
“It’s a big sigh of relief now,” said Howson after the win. “It’s been an amazing week and to finish it off the way we did, capitalise on our position, I couldn’t be happier.”
“It comes with a lot of honour (to win the Tour). There are a lot of prestigious names on that list… and I am really happy to join that list of guys.
“To get my first win only a couple of days ago and to continue all the way through and keep the yellow jersey on the final day, it’s my first overall win ever, so it’s nice to break into new territory.”
An oil spill on the final climb of the race prompted the organiser to neutralise the time gaps in the final three kilometres of the stage, which perhaps muted the opportunities for GC riders. However, after the previous day's crashes, rider safety came first.
In the end, there was no real change to the top order of the general classification, with Howson sitting 38 seconds ahead of second-placed Australian Jai Hindley (Korda Mentha-Australia), and Frenchman Elissonde in third at 53 seconds.
Froome settled for sixth place at one minute and 12 seconds. British rider Ian Bibby (JLT Condor) concluded the race in 11th at 1-21.
After finishing the stage and completing the podium presentations, Elissonde, Stannard and Froome elected to ride over 70km back to the team's hotel.
That concludes most of the WorldTour riders' excursion to Australia, as they had back to Europe for the start of the spring campaign.
Jayco Herald Sun Tour 2017, stage four: Kinglake to Kinglake, 121km
1. Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky, in 2-52-44
2. Aaron Gate (NZl) Aqua Blue Sport
3. Taco van der Hoorn (Ned) Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij
4. Benjamin Hill (Aus) Attaque Team Gusto
5. Robbie Hucker (Aus) IsoWhey Sports-Swiss Wellness
6. Alistair Slater (GBr) JLT Condor
7. Jason Christie (NZl) New Zealand
8. Daniel Fitter (Aus) NSW Institute of Sport
9. Cyrus Monk (Aus) Drapa-Pat's Veg
10. Travis McCabe (USA) UnitedHealthcare, all same time
20. Damien Howson (Aus) Orica-Scott, at 17 secs
41. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky, at 17 secs
Final general classification
1. Damien Howson (Aus) Orica-Scott, in 15-25-13
2. Jai Hindley (Aus) Korda Menthe Real Estate-Australia, at 38 secs
3. Kenny Elissonde (Fra) Team Sky, at 53 secs
4. Cameron Meyer (Aus) Korda Menthe Real Estate-Australia, at 1-08
5. Michael Storer (Aus) Korda Menthe Real Estate-Australia, at 1-10
6. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky, at 1-12
7. Lucas Hamilton (Aus) Korda Menthe Real Estate-Australia, at 1-13
8. Nathan Earle (Aus) Korda Menthe Real Estate-Australia, at 1-15
9. Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-Scott, at 1-15
10. Timothy Roe (Aus) IsoWhey Sports-Swiss Wellness, at 1-17
11. Ian Bibby (GBr) JLT-Condor, at 1-26
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