Mitchelton-Scott's Alex Edmondson could have been forgiven if he'd come away from Sunday's Down Under Classic feeling rather pleased with himself. While thrilled to have finished third, just behind one of the world's best sprinters and the world's most popular cyclist, Edmondson was typically humble when describing how he did it.
"It was a pretty chaotic final there," he told Cyclingnews after stepping off the Down Under Classic podium in Adelaide's East End, referring to the crash on the last lap that took arguably 2018's best sprinter, Deceuninck-QuickStep's Elia Viviani, out of the mix.
"I had [teammate] Daryl Impey move me up with about two laps to go, and then Daryl dropped me off, luckily in front of the crash, and I just sucked the wheels and managed to come to the finish line. I didn't really do a hell of a lot; all I did was just hold the wheel."
The fact that the wheel belonged to three-time world champion Peter Sagan – the winner of last year's Down Under Classic – shouldn't be left unsaid. Winner Caleb Ewan, meanwhile, left Edmondson's Mitchelton-Scott team at the end of last season to try his luck in 2019 with Lotto Soudal. That freed up Edmondson to have his chance in Sunday's sprint, and he took full advantage of having been put in the right place at the right time, and of the faith the team had put in him to be their designated sprinter for the race.
"I was there to see what I could do in the sprint," he said. "I haven't really had many opportunities, obviously with leading out Caleb last year, so this was really the first opportunity to see what it was like and to have a bunch gallop.
"I was a bit nervous beforehand," he admitted, "but you can only do what you can do, and I think my teammates helped me out as much as they could, and put me in the perfect place, so I'm pretty thrilled to have come away with third."
Head directeur sportif Matt White is happy to have been able to give Edmondson his chance.
"He's a powerful kid. He's not a pure sprinter, but at the end of the day, we haven't got a sprinter here, so when there are opportunities there, we're giving different guys a chance," White explained to Cyclingnews.
Ewan's departure at the end of last year leaves a large 'pure-sprinter' hole in the Mitchelton-Scott team but, with the squad's emphasis having shifted to the Yates brothers – Simon and Adam – for the Grand Tours, sprint wins have become less of a focus. However, in races where the Yates' aren't present – such as the Tour Down Under – there's nevertheless a depth in the team that will allow the Australian outfit to win races outside of the three Grand Tours.
Impey, for example, is back in Australia to defend his Tour Down Under title, and White said that he hoped that the tried-and-trusted method of going for the time bonuses at the finish line and at the intermediate sprints, coupled with trying to be there or thereabouts on the climbs, would pay off once more.
"It's the hardest Tour Down Under ever, so it's going to be borderline," said White. "Out of the last 10 editions, I think Richie Porte's one win here [in 2017] is really the only one from a pure climber.
"But the course is harder than it's ever been. We have three really tough days [stages 3, 4 and 6], so it's going to be touch and go as to whether the climbers can do enough to hold off the rouleur-type guys who can pick up the time bonuses along the way."
Willunga Hill, on stage 6, will go some way to helping to decide the winner, with this year's champion set to be crowned on its summit on January 20, while the return of the Corkscrew climb – back on the route for the first time since 2016 – on stage 4 should also significantly shake things up.
"I think the stages that are harder could eliminate some of the guys that Daryl is competing with for stage wins, such as your Sagans, your Vivianis and your Ewans," White said of Impey's chances of defending his title. "But on Corkscrew, if something goes away and stays away, then it's also bad for us.
"And then Wilunga is Willunga. It's always going to go in the last kilometre there, and the big question is going to be how big the time gaps are. It's going to be an interesting tour."
As for Edmondson, White is certain that the 2018 Australian road race champion will have an important role to play in helping Impey to gain the time bonuses he'll need to win the race overall again, and Edmondson knows that his job is clear.
"I'm definitely here to work for Daryl from now on," he said.
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