Australian's 2015 Tinkoff-Saxo team bike
Winner of the 2015 Tour Down Under
New and old kicks and lids seen at WorldTour race
Wiggle Honda team bike of two-time World Champion
Neil Van Der Ploeg (Search2Retain) entered the breakaway to collect sprint classification points
Search2Retain sprinter proud of Tasmania efforts
Search2Retain continue to make inroads in the Australian National Road Series with the Victorian-based outfit aggressive in their pursuit of some of the more powerful Continental-registered teams like Genesys Wealth Advisers, Budget Forklifts and Drapac. At the pointy-end of the battle for Search2Retain all season has been two ex-mountain bikers, Van Der Ploeg and Luke Fetch - the pair former winners of the Tour de Timor - with both intently focusing on their ambitions on the road just as the team looks to progress over the coming years.
According to Van Der Ploeg, the team's racing nous has improved as he and his teammates have gained more experience on the road with the race calendar spanning two disciplines.
Fetch, 22, the team's general classification hope started the tour a bit below par having been on a course of antibiotics but worked his way back to finish second in the final stage kermesse in Devonport. Meantime Van Der Ploeg was forced to fight tooth-and-nail to ensure victory in the Sewell Sweepers Sprint Championship with Felt NZ's Daniel Barry throwing down the challenge.
"It's not a good one [classification] to come second in because it takes a lot of effort to get the sprint jersey." Van Der Ploeg told Cyclingnews having finished runner-up to Drapac's Will Walker at the Tour of Gippsland.
Van Der Ploeg had the lead in the classification from stages 2 through 4 before Barry took a two-point lead on Stage 5. A determined effort in the face of attacks by Barry reduced the Kiwi rider's lead to one point on Stage 6. Heading into the Burnie Criterium on Stage 7, Van Der Ploeg decided enough was enough and resumed the lead with just under six laps to go. One final road stage remained on the tour and with Van Der Ploeg having good legs, he decided to "just make the most of it" and stamp his authority chasing down the breakaway in order to take the lone intermediate sprint on Stage 8 and eventually finish fourth across the finish line.
"Every day you have to do heaps of sprints and you need a fair bit of team support and it's not like GC where 2nd, people still take a bit of notice of that," Van Der Ploeg explained. "Second in the sprint comp is forgotten a bit more easily. It was great to win it in the end, so I'm really happy."
Throwing the dice one more time in 2012
"I've never done a race nearly that long so it's hard to know how it will go," Van Der Ploeg explained with Melbourne to Warrnambool 258km in length. "I'm just going to go in with a pretty open mind. Having 'Fetchy' get third last year, he will be our main man and also because he's just done so much work for me over the over all of the tours so if I can put myself at his disposal."
It's a one-two punch that just might have the ability to upset the likely juggernaut that is Drapac's line-up with form garnered over the Tour of Tasmania sure to play a role in the final result.
Evidence of the recently-turned 25-year-old's doggedness can be found in the fact that he was just one of the 21 riders who finished the men's road race at the Cycling Australia Road National Championships in January, with just a handful of non-World Tour riders able to stick with the likes of winner Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) over the 16 laps at Buninyong.
Once the 'Warrny' is over and done with, Van Der Ploeg will take a break before focusing on his preparation for the nationals and the re-vamped Jayco Herald Sun Tour which makes a welcome return to the summer calendar in Australia. Neither he nor his teammate has any real ambitions to race overseas again in mountain biking, but the fat tyres might make a return in training.