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Welsford a rider to watch in Tour Down Under sprints

Sam Welsford (UniSA-Australia)

Sam Welsford (UniSA-Australia) (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)

With seventh place in the People's Choice Classic on his first experience of sprinting in a WorldTour field, Sam Welsford announced himself as a rider to watch in the Santos Tour Down Under sprints.

Turning 22 on Thursday, Welsford has become a key rider in Australia's team pursuit squad since helping them take silver in the 2016 Olympic Games. Showing no signs of intimidation on the track, Welsford was also fearless in Sunday night's criterium despite going up against the likes of Peter Sagan, Andre Greipel, Caleb Ewan and Elia Viviani.

"It was crazy at first. I was a bit nervous going in with it being my first WorldTour race but I really enjoyed the whole experience," Welsford told Cyclingnews. "In the end, it was really fierce and crazy but I was lucky enough to get seventh. I got caught up in a little crash at the finish. Hopefully, I have another opportunity in the coming days to see what I can do."

With Steele von Hoff also lining out for UniSA-Australia, the team has two options for the sprints. While von Hoff is a proven rider at the Tour Down Under, a stage winner in 2015, Welsford is buoyed by his first sprint outing and expects to again challenge in the fast finales.

"I am quite competitive on the track in the bunch races but it is a whole different ball game in the WorldTour. You have lead outs with seven riders in front of their sprinters so it is a lot more about having better positioning leading up to the big fight at the end," he said. "It is quite like an elimination race where you are trying to surf the teams to try and stay in good position. That is the hardest thing to do, to stay up there with the teams. I really enjoyed last night and I love the fight of it so I am looking forward to the next one."

The An Post Rás was the last UCI stage race that Welsford rode but since April last year, he has enjoyed stage success at National Road Series (NRS) level and also impressed with second place in the 277-kilometre one-day Melbourne to Warrnambool classic.

"I do like stage races, I like the aspect of exploring new paths on the road. I think it will suit me because I can back up ok in some of the big stages and then we have the crit on the last stage of the tour," said Welsford who also has a contract in 2018 with the Australian Cycling Academy Continental team.

"I will be gunning for that stage if I can get through the stages and all the hills."

A Perth native who has spent the last few years in Adelaide through the high-performance programme, Welsford has the advantage of 'hometown' knowledge which he hopes will assist his quest for a stage win.

"All the rides and roads we train on are the ones we are racing on this tour," he said. "It will be awesome to pinpoint the marks you have been during training, and know when the climb is coming up and know when the turn is coming up. I think that will be an advantage for us local guys as we can be where we need to be when the time comes."

Currently focused on the task at hand with the Tour Down Under, Welsford's early season ambition is a place in the team pursuit at April's Commonwealth Games is as he looks to add to his Olympic Games silver medal and rainbow jersey in the event. Before re-entering the velodrome, Welsford will also line out at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race WorldTour event later in the month. Another race to test his sprint against a WorldTour class field. 

Zeb Woodpower is the Australian editor at Cyclingnews. Based in Sydney, Zeb provides an Australian perspective on the sport with articles ranging from the local to the global . He joined Cyclingnews in 2013.

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