If there was one rider in the bunch looking to exploit the Herald Sun Tour crosswinds of stage 1, the majority of bets would have been placed on Koen de Kort. The odds on return were small but the payout was forthcoming nonetheless for the Trek-Segafredo rider who duly played in his role in a stirring day of racing.
The Dutchman is well versed with the winds of northern Europe and has multiple Classics campaigns under his belt. The 35-year-old also recently raced the Melbourne to Warrnambool and spends his off-season In Australia. All qualities combining to assist De Kort in playing a starring role for his Trek-Segafredo team and help tear apart the race.
Ensconced in a selected nine-rider leading group for the final kilometres of the stage as crosswinds split the bunch, De Kort found himself in the rare position of being able to race for himself. The loyal teammate was in position to atone for his close call at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. Instead, it was Lasse Norman Hansen who washed away the regret of his close call in the prologue to take the win. De Kort finished fourth.
"It was not really frustrating. It was an honest finish and the others were faster than me," De Kort told Cyclingnews after crossing the line in fourth place.
"At Cadel’s race, I got a chance and I thought it would be my only chance for the year but straight away at the next race, I get another chance so I wanted to take it. I was up there contesting again and I am just happy with how my ride was but, obviously, when you are there you want to win as well."
The stage deciding move came late in the 161.6-kilometre ride from Colac after earlier attempts to split the race didn't go quite to plan, as De Kort explained.
"It was a bit funny, because a couple of times we had crosswinds and nothing really happened. We tried once with the team and it kind of all came back together or maybe it didn't split," he said. "I am not sure, but then all of sudden when nobody really expects anything to happen anymore, there is just enough crosswind. It was just the guys riding on the front to bring the break back and I guess all the riders heard on the radio the bunch has split and was the cue for everyone to go full gas. In the end, it completely split to pieces."
Thinking of the GC and Buninyong
In the finale, Trek-Segafredo were represented by De Kort and Portuguese national champion Rubén Guerreiro in the front group with Mads Pedersen and Alex Frame at 23 seconds. The only Trek-Segafredo rider to suffer a bad day was Laurent Didier with the Luxembourger snapping a frame in a crash and rolling in over 15 minutes down on his teammate.
"We had the four guys we were hoping would up front be there. Obviously, with Rubén being in the first group with me, this is really good for GC. He must be right up there now. He is our climber so we are looking forward to seeing what we can do with him the next few days," de Kort said of the team performance, promising for more aggressive racing across the three stages to come.
While De Kort's teammates will be unfamiliar with the parcours of stage 2 into Buninyong, featuring the majority of Australian national championships circuit, he raced the event in 2011 and will be looking to use his experience for Trek-Segafredo's gain. He will be hopeful of again exploiting the natural elements in his second home.
"I did race there before quite a while ago when it was still the open championships. I haven't seen that climb in a while but I don't think you forget it very easily," he said off Mt Buninyong.
"It will be a good finish for the team again with Mads who is still a good climber and for sure a really good sprinter. With the GC a little bit more set apart I think it will be a little bit more controlled but it depends on the wind a little bit. We start from here tomorrow and I have been told it is always windy so it could be some fireworks again."