Simon Yates couldn’t wrestle the ochre jersey off Tour Down Under winner Jay Vine but did beat him in an uphill sprint at Mount Lofty to win the fifth and final stage on Sunday.
Yates was the first to attack on the steep slopes to the finish after the hilly 112.5km race came together with some 8km remaining.
Jayco Alula sports director Matt White had tipped at the start in Unley that the stage would be decided in the final 2km so it was perhaps no coincidence that Yates made his first move with 1.8km to go.
Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroen) followed the Briton with Vine (UAE Emirates) bridging across soon after. Yates led the trio into the final kilometre and accelerated again before O’Connor attacked with Vine on his wheel.
Vine kicked in the closing metres and appeared on course to win the stage before Yates surged again, celebrating as he crossed the line. O’Connor finished two seconds behind the pair for third.
“At that point of the race I was just trying to go as fast as possible," Yates said.
"The only concerning bit was the sprint. I was not super confident there just with the huge effort I put in to try and establish a gap, but I managed to just pull it off."
Yates started the stage second on general classification but on equal time with Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious), both 15 seconds behind Vine. The win secured his standing on GC, with Yates placing second overall, 11 seconds adrift of Vine. Bilbao finished 27 seconds in arrears of the race winner for third.
“A lot of the other teams were interested in making it a hard race, or just getting in the moves so we just sat back quietly and really focused on the final," Yates said.
“UAE had a strong team here. It would have been difficult to shake them all earlier and also with Bilbao and me being on the same time it was also a bit of a tricky situation there. It was hard to put everything into it and then risk losing second place, so we had to work around that.”
That Yates and teammate Michael Matthews, who won the points classification, were in Australia for the return of the WorldTour opener, following a two-year hiatus between editions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, signified the importance of the race to their Australian-registered team.
“We put a lot of emphasis on this race," said Yates. "It’s a really big goal especially since Covid and it not being able to come back in full capacity. There was a lot of motivation in our team to really do a good ride and I hope I can take that back to Europe now and continue.”
For Vine, the title victory contributed to an impressive series of firsts already this season.
In his first season with UAE Emirates, he’s won the Australian national time trial championships in his first participation and now Down Under in a strong, determined and calculated campaign.
“I’m a big fan of Alain Prost from Formula One and his philosophy was take the risk when you can and when you have the opportunity go all in and that’s how I basically rode the race, not getting greedy and going for stage wins when I could take as much time as possible,” Vine said.
“That’s why it was a lot easier on the boys today because we had the 15 second buffer over the other two. But yeah, I mean, it took him [Prost] to two world championships so it should have been able to help me get a Tour Down Under win.”
Vine, who was complimentary of his teammates all week, intended on celebrating with either an espresso martini or Kilkenny, but not both as the self-described “light weight” looks toward his own campaign in Europe, which is set to include a protected role behind Joao Almeida at the Giro d’Italia.
UAE Emirates is working on determining his limits, which Vine hopes extends to results that translate to longevity and exotic cars.
“I’m pretty happy with how my career is going. If I’d come second in this race that would have been a massive thing for my career as it was. But taking it step by step, I’ve got plenty more races still to go this year," he said.
Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers) claimed the best young rider classification after impressing pundits with his maturity and resilience following a crash-marred start. Mikkel Honore (EF Education-EasyPost) won the mountain classification.
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