British sprinter Dan McLay's sprint win on the opening stage of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour at the Phillip Island GP Circuit in Victoria, Australia, on Wednesday could be just what was needed to open the sprinting floodgates for the EF Education First rider.
"I'd been coming up against a brick wall at the Tour Down Under, but I think that after all that racing, I've come out with a bit of form. I had the bit between my teeth today, and the boys did an excellent job," McLay said after his win, praising teammates Mitch Docker and Tom Scully, in particular, for having dropped him off on the final straight, where he beat Team Sky's Kristoffer Halvorsen and EvoPro's Wouter Wippert.
"It was time to pull my finger out," the 27-year-old admitted. "At the Tour Down Under – like here – we also had a GC goal, but I didn't get the ball rolling on stage 1 at Down Under, and then the GC became the focus.
"I still had my chances, but they didn't come off – and OK, so here it's a little bit of a lower level, but I think I've been soaking up the racing, and I'm ready to go."
McLay truly announced himself to the sprinting world when he finished third behind Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel on stage 6 of the 2016 Tour de France, when riding for the French Fortuneo-Vital Concept Pro Continental team.
But anyone who saw the footage of McLay snaking his way through the bunch at full pelt to win the Grand Prix de Denain earlier that year before getting the better of Cofidis sprinter Nacer Bouhanni to win the Grand Prix de la Somme wouldn't have been overly surprised that McLay is capable of mixing it with the very best.
Three more victories followed over the subsequent years, with McLay's last win coming at the Circuit Cyclist Sarthe last April, having joined Jonathan Vaughters EF set-up for 2018.
"I guess I've not really had an exponential rise or anything, but I still feel like I've got a lot to give, and I'm pretty quick, so I just needed to get my head in the right place, which I think it is now," said McLay.
"Maybe my problem is not always so much my finishing speed, but that aspect of being in the red five or 10 minutes before the sprint, and how much legs I've got left. And some of that's a mental thing – believing you can sprint when you're a bit cooked, so I hope this win gets the ball rolling.
"This season is pretty important. I'm not a spring chicken anymore, and it's time to get things rolling. It's not been for lack of trying or because of a lack of motivation, but it's not easy to win bike races anymore.
"It never was easy in the first place, but if you reel off a list of sprinters now, there's, like, 15 sprinters who are bloody quick. But if you look 10 years back, you're going to say, 'Is it Cav or [Tyler] Farrar who's going to win?' Or, 'Is it Cav or whoever?' or, 'Is it Kittel or [Andre] Greipel?' Now there are 15 guys who are going just about as quick as each other, and it's about getting it right."
The New Zealand-born Briton will enjoy his win – especially as he has family in town – but will then knuckle down to what comes next.
"My granddad and uncle have flown over from New Zealand to have a look at this race," he said. "Two of my uncles and their drinking mates were out for the Tour Down Under, too, and I caught up with them once they were about six beers deep one night, and had a good laugh.
"But, tomorrow we start again – a different race," said McLay, who'll wear the yellow leader's jersey, but he seems prepared to lose it in the service of team leader, and one of the race favourites, Michael Woods, as the race starts to get hillier, before flattening out again for the final stage in Melbourne.
"I'll be getting stuck in and doing my job tomorrow," he confirmed, "and then on stage 5, the next time we get a chance [to sprint], I'll have the bit between my teeth again."
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