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Rohan Dennis in the break re-hydrates
Clarke, Dennis lead an outstanding 2012 race for national team
With a rider fifth on the Santos Tour Down Under general classification, the King of the Mountain crown, and a gutsy solo stage victory on stage 2 to Stirling, UniSA-Australia's class of 2012 have set the bar high.
Rohan Dennis and Will Clarke's performances stand-out, but with a presence in all but one escape of the six stage event, the team can pat themselves on the back for a job well done, firmly showing that UniSA-Australia deserved to be at the Tour Down Under alongside the WorldTour's best.
"I’m really proud of the lads, they’ve all done a great job," reflected team manager Dave Sanders.
And although Sanders is more than happy with the results, such was the belief he had in the team after stage 4 to Tanunda - so impressed was he with how Rohan Dennis and Bernard Sulzberger were travelling - that he shifted the team goals for the race to make them a little more ambitious.
"A few days ago it was going to be about the KOM, or the team’s classification. But with Rohan going so well we went into the Willunga stage with the absolute belief that we could win the whole race."
The fairytale didn't quite transpire - Suzlberger flatted just before the final time up Willunga ending his overall chances, and although Dennis left it all on the road, Gerrans and Valverde were just a little stronger on the day. The rides of the whole team however were impressive, making their presence known on a day when more than a few of the WorldTour teams were anonymous.
"It was a tragedy for Bernie," said Sanders. "He’s had a bit of bad luck the past couple of years, and it was a big chance for him, he could’ve been top ten or even better.
"But Rohan showed again what a talent he is. I think he can be really proud of what he's achieved here. He’s still young but his ability to lay down power over 3, 4 or 5 minutes is really impressive. He’s up there with anyone his age in the world. Had Bernie been up there in the finale who knows what would have happened."
"It is a high bar what these guys have achieved here, but more than anything it's been great to see them enjoying themselves as much as they have been."
Sprints still a work in progress for team's young guns
While the general classification bid went as well as Sanders could have hoped, in the bunch sprints, the team didn't have quite the same level of success. Steele Von Hoff and Tom Palmer struggled to navigate the WorldTour peloton and position themselves against the likes of Andre Greipel, Alessandro Petacchi and Edvald Boasson Hagen, not that Sanders was ever disappointed.
As the UniSA-Australia manager explained, it was always going to be more difficult competing against the well-drilled organisation of the professional teams in the bunch dashes, adding he'd prefer his riders to remain safe, and not sacrifice the rest of their seasons in favour of a potential podium placing.
"It’s just not worth it," said Sanders. "I said to them if it gets too crazy in the finishes to back out. We had Steele up there into Victor Harbor, but he just got boxed out really late. Steele just needs to see clear road, he’s quick but he needs to see clear road."
It's a minor blip on an otherwise outstanding Tour for the team, and perhaps the biggest disappointment now is seeing what has developed over the past week into a really tight-knit group, have to disband.
All seven riders will return to their trade teams; Will Clarke (Champion System), Bernard Sulzberger (Raleigh), Jay McCarthy, Rohan Dennis (Jayco-AIS), Lachlan Norris and Tom Palmer (Drapac), and Steele Von Hoff (Chipotle); but leave a legacy as one of the best UniSA teams assembled in the squad's 14 year association with the race.