Tour Down Under: Bernal passes Willunga Hill test

Team Sky neo-pro up to sixth and leads best young rider classification

Of the neo-pros who have entered the WorldTour peloton in 2018, the highest expectations have arguably been reserved for Egan Bernal. Overall victory at the Tour de l'Avenir was the highlight of a successful 2017 that earned the Colombian a contract with Team Sky and status as a rider to watch in 2018 and beyond.

On his first climbing test as a WorldTour rider at the Santos Tour Down Under, Bernal impressed as he rode to fifth place on Willunga Hill and all but sealed the best young rider classification. His result also moved the 21-year-old into sixth on general classification with just Sunday's Adelaide city circuit stage to come.

"I was in the front for the two laps of the climb and I really felt good. In the finish, two hundred metres to go, I was so tired and I finish fifth. I think it is good for me in my first race with the team and the first race of the year," Bernal told Cyclingnews as he walked to the podium to collect his white jersey of the stage finish.

Bernal was sitting on the wheel of Rohan Dennis (BMC) with one and a half kilometres to race up Willunga Hill when Richie Porte made his race-winning attack. Jay McCarthy (Bora-Hansgrohe) was the only rider capable of following Porte but Bernal was the third best from the group and set off in chase of the leaders. He ultimately outlasted McCarthy but was powerless in stopping Porte from his fifth win at Willunga.

"I think I was wrong when he attacked because I was at the front, in second position, and then I lost ten positions so maybe I learn for next year," he said of Porte's move.

In the flatter run into the line, Bernal was overtaken by Daryl Impey, Tom Jelte Slagter, and Dries Devenyns to cross the line in fifth place. While the best young rider jersey, won by Colombian compatriot Jhonatan Restrepo last year, was a welcome prize a the end of a hard day, Bernal was looking at his overall result as the greater achievement.

"It is good but not only because of the young jersey. I think it is more important with the stage and general classification. I am sixth so I think it is good for me," he added. "I am 21 years old and I think I need to learn a lot and it is the first race of the year so I am happy with that."

Bernal's next race after the Tour Down Under is the inaugural Oro y Paz in early-February where on home roads he is sure to be feted by the fans. His reputation has been further enhanced by his Tour Down Under results and best result to date at WorldTour level.

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