Stevie Williams was "over the moon" to be in the race lead at the Tour Down Under after stage five, but cautioned that Sunday's final day will be "tough" and "stressful".
The Israel-Premier Tech rider holds the ochre leader's jersey on count-back, with the Welshman tied on time with stage five's winner Oscar Onley (dsm-firmenich PostNL). With such a thin grasp on the race lead, it will very much be all to play for on stage six, which sees the peloton ascend Mount Lofty thrice.
It is not the 27-year-old's first time in a WorldTour leader's jersey, with Williams taking the lead at the Tour de Suisse two years ago following winning stage one. However, he has never been so close to overall victory on such a level.
"I’m really, really glad, over the moon," Williams said post-stage. "I knew it was going to be close, obviously we’re on the same time, and I got it on count-back. Luckily that sprint on stage two [where he finished third] came in pretty handy there. I’m really pleased to be in this jersey and to give this back to the boys who have done such a good job today."
Beyond Onley, there are two more riders - Jhonatan Narváez (Ineos Grenadiers) and Isaac del Toro (UAE Team Emirates) - within five seconds of Williams, and three more within 13. That includes Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal Quick-Step) and Simon Yates (Jayco AlUla). Stage six will not be easy.
"It will be a tough stage," Williams said. "It will be hard to control, everybody is still very close there on GC - the top five or six guys are all within a handful of seconds so I expect a pretty stressful day but the guys here have such experience and class that I have no worries that we’ll do our best to fight for it.
"We’ve got to be aware. Realistically it’s going to be a tough day. The last days are always hard to control whenever you’re in the lead, so we’ll just do our best to give it everything and try to come away with a win."
The climber, a winner of the prestigious U23 race the Ronde de I’Isard in 2018, was plagued by left knee trouble after he turned professional with Bahrain-Merida in 2019. However, he has built steadily since 2021, when he won CRO Race, with stage victory at the Tour de Suisse following in 2022, and the overall at the Arctic Race of Norway in 2023.
A return to the podium, so early in 2024, harks good things this season, and it is clear that he is backed by his Israel-Premier Tech team; in a strong squad, which includes Simon Clarke, Derek Gee and George Bennett, he has been given his own opportunity.
"I’ve had a good winter, I’ve been healthy," Williams explained. "I knew that this race and the parcours was suited to me, so I was confident, coming here with a good team. It’s nice to be in this jersey now, but it’s not over, we have one more day and we’ll try and do everything."
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