There were some tense times in the Dimension Data team car on stage 5 of the Santos Tour Down Under between McLaren Vale and Willunga Hill on Saturday but after the finish the African team celebrated a day of double success. South African neo-pro Nicholas Dlamini secured the King of the Mountains jersey with yet another day out front in the break and Tom-Jelte Slagter finish third on the stage to Richie Porte (BMC) to take third place overall.
Dlamini just needed to take a few points available on the first ascent of Willunga Hill to secure the blue polka-dot jersey but it was a battle of nerves with Porte and the peloton.
As the bunch closed in on the seven-man break on the lower slopes of the climb, at one point getting as close as 25 seconds, Dlamini made his move, taking second place at the top of the climb behind Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) to secure the jersey for keeps.
"Richie had taken the KoM points on the climb on yesterday’s stage, so we were only 16 points ahead of him, and there was a maximum of 16 points available on each of the two times we went over Willunga Hill," sports director Alex Sans Vega told Cyclingnews after the stage.
"Richie ended up winning the stage, as we'd predicted, which would have put him on equal points with Nic, so we had to score some points on the first climb no matter what."
Sans Vega admitted that they weren't sure the best way to play it; putting Dlamini in an early break was somewhat of a risk.
"In the end we decided that he should be in the break if there were six riders or more, and that’s luckily what happened, and then we just hoped we could come to the bottom of the climb with a two-minute lead, which I think ended up being about 1:40 or 1:50."
Dlamini may not have let on but he had been just as worried as team management.
"To be honest, I was worried the whole race," Dlamini laughed post- stage after pulling on the jersey yet again.
"It was a tough stage, and I just had to go out and do my best. I was just hoping that the break would stay away until we hit the climb the first time. They did close the gap really quickly when we got to the bottom, which was really stressful, so I started going as hard as I could up the climb. I was happy that I could stay away and get some points."
Slagter meanwhile, thinking of a place on the final podium and vital WorldTour points for Dimension Data, had to play things a little cooler until the finale of the stage.
"As we all expected, Richie went with, I think, 1.5 kilometres to go, and I saw Jay [McCarthy] jumping behind him," explained the Dutchman.
"I thought I'd just stay where I was because, if you follow Richie, there comes a point when you can’t follow him anymore, and you can lose more time than you could actually gain in the end. I just stayed calm, and it actually went perfectly until the last 100 metres when Impey jumped away and I couldn't catch him. So I was third but I'm really happy - and happy for the team.
"Richie really is the King of Willunga Hill, so there's not much you can do," added Sans Vega. "He's a world-class rider, and he’s at home, which is extra motivation, so we all kind of expected that he would do what he did. You could just blow up trying to follow him, so we just decided to take the climb at our own pace.
"It was a really good team effort to help Tom-Jelte take third overall, and we're really happy to take the King of the Mountains jersey with Nic. It’s turned out to be a really, really good day for us."
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