The overall winner of the 2019 Jayco Herald Sun Tour, Dylan van Baarle, will head home to Europe with his confidence boosted and his sights firmly set on the spring Classics, where he's targeting the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, in particular.
The Team Sky rider took the Herald Sun Tour title in Melbourne on Sunday, having successfully defended the race lead that he took on Saturday's 'Queen stage' to the top of the Arthurs Seat climb. Although he was only second there on the stage – to Mitchelton-Scott's Nick Schultz – it was enough to wrest the yellow leader's jersey from the shoulders of EF Education First's Michael Woods.
"It wasn't actually the plan that I was in the break [on Saturday]," Van Baarle explained. "The plan was that Christian [Knees] and Luke [Rowe] should be in it, but when I saw that EF were really suffering to close the gap on the first big group that got away, and then when I saw Christian and Luke going, I decided that it was the right moment."
With first Rowe – on the flat – and then Knees working for the Dutchman once they were on the four finishing circuits over the climb, Van Baarle was put into a race-winning position, with Woods, in the chasing group behind, left without any teammates to mount a chase – and left to see his hopes of winning the race overall disappear up the road.
While Van Baarle topped the GC ahead of Schultz and Woods, Van Baarle's Team Sky teammate Kristoffer Halvorsen sprinted to the stage win in Melbourne on stage 5, finishing off a successful campaign in Australia that included winning all the jersey competitions at the Herald Sun Tour except for the points jersey, as well as two stage wins and finishing as the best team.
"Now, my focus will move to the spring Classics," said Van Baarle, having stepped down off the final podium in Melbourne. "Flanders and Roubaix are the main goals, and I hope to be up there in the finals of the harder races."
Despite Sky's sponsorship ending after the 2019 season, and with the team's management chasing a replacement main sponsor, the 26-year-old said that it's business as usual among the riders.
"We won't change anything compared to previous years, but will just try to have an even better season this year than last year.
"The Classics are still quite far away, but this week has given me – and the team – a real confidence boost," he said.
"They're always raced aggressively, like we raced here," said Van Baarle, "and the guys are all already in good shape. We're at a good level, and I'm looking forward to spring."
Finishing, and winning, the Herald Sun Tour brought the curtain down on almost a month of racing for Van Baarle and his teammates, which started with the Tour Down Under in mid-January – where he finished 16th overall – followed by the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, ahead of the Victorian stage race.
"It was the first time for me racing in Australia, but I’ll definitely be back," he said, before joking that he was off to try to fit his substantial winner's trophy into his suitcase for the trip back home.