Luis León Sánchez (Astana Pro Team) returned to the 2019 Tour Down Under having previously won the race back in 2005. The Spaniard finished in the top-10 three times - plus an 11th place - over the six stages this week but, despite the consistency, was unable to match the effort up Willunga Hill and fell off the podium on the final day.
Sánchez crossed the line in a respectable fifth place, but, having started the day third overall, ended his week in fourth place, behind winner Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and Wout Poels (Team Sky).
Despite the strong results and respectable overall finish, Sanchez was frustrated with the superior form of Australian riders and named Impey as another rider who has benefitted from missing the European winter.
"Before today we had a good feeling but it's always the same, the Australian riders and also Impey are here before Christmas for training and have better form than me," Sánchez said to reporters after the race finish.
"It's a good result, of course, but a podium would've been better. It was close, it's a good result for me and, more importantly, my teammates did really good work for me. I think it's nice looking forward to Europe that it's a good result.
"I did some good work at home before here and it's nicer weather here than home. But it's always the same, I have good feelings but other racers are stronger than me. I think it's no coincidence that the others are stronger than me."
After next weekend's Cadel Evans Road Race, Sánchez will return to Europe to race in a string of Spanish races before targeting Paris-Nice in early March. Despite the initial disappointment of today's result, he and Astana will surely be content with a string of stellar performances over the opening week of the 2019 WorldTour.
"Cadel Evans Road Race is next and after it's Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, Vuelta a Murcia, Almería, Andalucía and then Paris-Nice. For the start of the season, it's good. I think I have good form, I think now there will be some good recovery in Melbourne and I also look forward to Sunday because it's a good race. Then I'll have some recovery and it gets busy."