Sam, but different: Bora-Hansgrohe get 2024 off to a flier at Tour Down Under

Sam Welsford powered to victory on stage one in Tanunda to give his team the perfect start

Sam Welsford wins stage one of the Tour Down Under
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Bora-Hansgrohe have not had a quiet off-season, by any metric. The German team signed Primož Roglič, played their part in the Cian Uijterbroeks situation, and are in the midst of an attempted buy out by Red Bull.

That was just the apéritif. Bora's true tests are set to come on the road, not off it, with all eyes on Roglič especially, for the Tour de France. However, it is not all about the Slovenian, as the squad proved on day one of the Tour Down Under on Tuesday.

At their first real opportunity, on the opening day of the 2024 WorldTour season, Sam Welford sprinted to victory after a near-perfect leadout from his teammate. A 100% record so far. Of course, this is no guarantee of future success, but the noises from the team suggest that they are more confident this year, and ready for more wins.

In 2023, Bora had another English-speaking sprinter called Sam in Sam Bennett. Despite winning on his opening day at the Vuelta a San Juan - beating Welsford in the process, incidentally - he went on to win only four more races, with none at WorldTour level. Welsford moved to Bora from dsm-firmenich PostNL, while Bennett moved onto pastures new at Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale. It seems like a new Sam was needed.

"With Bennett it turned out not really well, but this new Sam he's a powerhouse," Welsford's new leadout man Danny van Poppel said. "We knew if we can do it a perfect leadout he can hold the power, he pushes a lot of power. He's a totally different sprinter than Bennett. We believed in him a lot. Today it had to be perfect, and we could do it. Not only me, but Mullen and the whole team."

It looked as simple as positioning Welsford in the right position for the sprint and letting him fly; the man from Western Australia beat Phil Bauhaus (Bora-Hansgrohe), Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty) and Caleb Ewan (Jayco-AlUla) in Tanunda.

His directeur sportif, Shane Archbold, no stranger to the leadout, wasn't convinced that it was simple: "I guess you could say that, from the outside. It's easy to say that afterwards."

However, it did go pretty right on the first day: "The boys did exactly what was planne," he said. We started the season well in the criterium, showed what we're here to do, and they pulled it off today. So it's perfect."

The criterium, the Down Under Classic, saw Bora-Hansgrohe control the race in an attempt to set up Welsford. It didn't end up happening, with the break winning, but the team's clear disappointment afterwards was a sign that they believe in their new sprinter.

It helps to have a leadout man de luxe like Van Poppel at your disposal. Bennett's second time at Bora might have been a disappointment, but his pilot at finishes, Van Poppel, knows where the gaps are, and can deliver his riders to big wins. Just ask Jordi Meeus, victor on the Champs Elysées at the Tour last year.

“Van Poppel was amazing, he was rallying us in the last three kilometres keeping us calm and telling us where to go," Welsford said post-podium celebrations, clad in the ochre leader's jersey. "Everyone says he can almost see it before it happens, he can see stuff in slow motion. That’s such a good strength to have in the team."

"He was incredible in the last 400 metres, what he did for me in the sprint, I was like, this is already hard for me in the wheel and then I had to kick. But that’s what sprinting is all about, having that last guy.”

If Welsford is a big fan of his new leadout man, then Van Poppel is equally a fan of the man behind him, with the Dutchman comparing his charge to some of the great sprinters of the last decade. It's a love-in at Bora.

"He has so much power from the track," Van Poppel said. "I think if we do a leadout like this guys like Kittel, Greipel, Welsford they can do it. That's exactly what we need. I was waiting for a full sprinter. Even if Sam Bennett is a good friend of mine, but in the end it's business."

Archbold cautioned, saying it was still a "train in progress", with Welsford being led out by Van Poppel, and Ryan Mullen before that. However, if it works as well as Tuesday again, then there will be more sprint wins coming Bora's way.

"I think sprinters you know feed off confidence and the only time you get that is if you're getting good results," Welsford said. "For us to get their first win of the season here as a team at the first race together is is good sign to what we can do together."

The Tour Down Under win was just Welsford's second at WorldTour level, so there is more to come from the 27-year-old, who only switched to road racing as well as track in 2022, post-pandemic.

"Everything is new for him, he's super hungry still," Van Poppel said. "He can be the new sprinter, and with us, it's a perfect combination I think."

This year, the team are hoping for Sam, but different. Day one certainly went well.

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