Stevie Williams' trip to Australia did not get off on the best foot. The Israel-Premier Tech rider was "spewing his head off" on the flight over, according to his teammate George Bennett. Fortunately, he had a bit of time to recover before the Tour Down Under kicked off. His trip is certainly going well now, with victory on stage six of the race netting him the overall title, his first general classification win at WorldTour level. From sickness to the best health.
The 27-year-old from Aberystwyth was not top of many people's lists of favourites ahead of the week, something his directeur sportif Sam Bewley readily admitted. It might be January but the likes of Simon Yates (Jayco AlUla), Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal Quick-Step) and Jack Haig (Bahrain-Victorious) were worthy challengers, but none could match the Welshman.
Williams finished second on Willunga Hill on Saturday's stage five, to take the leader's jersey, and then completed his total victory on Sunday, with a stage win. The man in ochre calmly reeled back in those attacking him on the final ascent of Mount Lofty, before launching his sprint, keeping Isaac del Toro (UAE Team Emirates) and Jhonatan Narváez (Ineos Grenadiers) at bay. It was his sprint which won him the race.
"He's really quick, people underestimate him I think," Bewley said. "We knew he was a good chance for us this week, we kept it under wraps pretty well I think. I hazard to guess that no one would have said Stevie Williams would have won the Tour Down Under, but we delivered it."
Perhaps we should have seen this coming when Williams finished third on stage two, the bunch sprint finish where the win was stolen by Del Toro, who ended up finishing second overall. Williams didn't have any doubt in his team, that was clear.
"I thought we were nailed on to do something to be honest," he said. "I think the calibre of riders we had here, we were backing ourselves to come here and perform. We weren't here to make the numbers up."
Williams' victory did not come out of the blue. His win at the Tour Down Under followed taking the Arctic Race of Norway last year, and a stage of the Tour de Suisse the year before. However, it is safe to say this is the biggest moment of his career to date.
"Cycling is funny, they [wins] don't come round so often, once you get a victory like this, you have to make sure you enjoy it and take it in," he said. "For me to win a WorldTour GC, at this point in the season, is really important for my development.
"It's nice to start a season well for once. If you look at my career over the last five or six years, it has been pretty up and down. I think from here, it's definitely something I want to kick on with, and make sure the season is consistent."
His Israel-Premier Tech team know they have a big talent on their hands, they just had to get him to believe in his abilities.
"He's a really calm guy," Bewley explained. "Sometimes he doesn't back himself, and we've been trying to instil it in him that he should. Case in point is this. I think there's going to be a big shift in his confidence, and that's going to take him a long way for the rest of his career.
"He's a really unassuming guy and he just gets on with it. He doesn't like to overcomplicate things, he spends his evening watching old NBA highlights and listening to Drake. He's a relaxed guy and he just wants to get out there and race his bike."
Williams might not be on the level of a Primož Roglič, Remco Evenepoel or Tadej Pogačar, but he is from the same school of riding. Climb, go into the red, and then manage to sprint at the end.
"He's got the goods. In this kind of race especially," Bennett explained. "He's incredibly fast on five minute climbs. This is his bread and butter, he's genuinely one of the fastest people I've ever met. His sprint is unbelievable. He can hit bunch sprint watts. These short climbs, you'll see him, that's his specialty."
"He climbs really well, even in the high mountains, but he's got that little sprint in him that not a lot of people know about - they probably do now," Bewley added. "He's really quick, as you saw on stage two when he came third when he was leading out Corbin Strong.
"The new model of cyclist, a lot of the guys are having a lot of success, are they guys that can climb well and sprint too. Stevie fits right in that mix, and that's where he's heading, he's there now. That will become his bread and butter."
Williams appears to have hit his stride after years of his career where he has struggled with injury and to find a team which backed him. With this Israel-Premier Tech team, its environment, and with a clean bill of health, the Welshman is one to watch at week-long stage races and the Ardennes Classics, which are his next goal.
"At the moment, I'm definitely a puncheur with a fast finish," he said. "Short, sharp climbs. Being able to go into the red, recover, red, recover. That's where I am at the moment, but the longer climbs are something I want to try and improve on. But if this is right for me at the minute, and I'm winning, then why change something.
"The next most important thing will be the Ardennes Classics. I want to go there and get a good block in, and then once we know which Grand Tour I'm going to do, it will be all go for that."
His goal now is a simple one, to replicate this in Europe. It doesn't seem unachievable.
"I want to go to the biggest races in the world and do this," Williams said. "I think this is a stepping stone in the right direction, considering it's a week-long stage race. I'd like to head back now and kick on from here, and make the most of it. Try my best to get some good results."
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