It was always going to take something special to end Richie Porte’s reign on Willunga Hill. The Tasmanian, while only winning his second overall title at the Tour Down Under at the 2020 edition, has been unbeaten on the race’s often decisive climb since 2014.
That something special to break Porte’s record would prove to be a rider taking his first-ever professional win in his debut WorldTour race.
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Oh, and Matthew Holmes says he’s never really raced up climbs before this week.
After beating Richie Porte to the line, the Brit said his Lotto-Soudal team had sent their riders out on the final stage without much of a plan except to get in the day’s break.
Holmes did exactly that, with his compatriot Dibben also obliging. Holmes says Dibben didn’t miss a turn pulling in the large group, allowing Holmes to mostly just sit on and keep his legs fresh for later in the day.
This wasn’t with any great expectation of what was to come, though. Understandably, Holmes didn’t expect to be flying back from Australia with a stage win and a newly found recognition of his qualities as a bike rider.
“I didn’t really think about the gap, I just thought about the group I was with,” Holmes said, explaining the finale of the stage. “But there is no way I thought I would win that, that was such a big group.”
As the breakaway fractured with the GC contenders storming into view behind, Holmes was left with Sunweb’s Michael Storer and Groupama-FDJ’s Bruno Armirail. However, Porte then soared up to their leading trio with 800m to go and before long kicked again in search of the stage victory.
Storer and Armirail fell away, but Holmes hopped on to the Tasmanian’s wheel, the last of the 131 riders that Porte needed to defeat.
The Trek-Segafredo rider couldn’t shake him however, and even with a final acceleration around the last bend, Holmes stayed with him and then powered past, crossing the finish line three seconds ahead of the ochre jersey winner.
Holmes’ own assessment of his performance shows this victory is as much a shock to him as anyone else, saying he’s not used to racing up climbs but nevertheless dispatching a rider in Porte who has previously won the Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse.
“Well I don’t know, I have never really raced up the climbs, I have been stuck in Britain for the last six years, which is not a bad thing,” Holmes said, referencing the six years he has spent on the UCI Continental circuit with Madison-Genesis before stepping up to the WorldTour ranks this year. “But yeah this is my first hill, second hilltop finish this week, so [it] seems to suit me.”
After celebrating this win, it will be back to work for Holmes, helping team-mates cross the finish line first instead.
“Not that there was pressure on me but I can relax a bit now for Cadel Evans [Great Ocean Road Race] and get back to helping Caleb Ewan.”