Lining up at McLaren Vale, with the wind rising on the course that wound its way up to the climb of Willunga, via the coast, it looked set to be a tough day out for Santos Festival of Cycling race leader James Whelan and Team BridgeLane as they set out to defend a 25 second lead on the overall.
Though, at the end of the day they walked away with not just first, but also second place as Matt Dinham shifted up a spot even while working to secure Whelan’s victory.
Add Dinham’s win in the best young rider classification and the team category victory too and it’s hard to imagine a better outcome for the Continental team at the National Road Series Event which is replacing the cancelled WorldTour event, the Tour Down Under.
“The team was unreal today,” said Whelan in a Santos Festival of Cycling interview straight after the race. “We were on the front all day taking care of the attacks and the crosswinds and the boys were incredible. Every time we got attacked in the crosswinds we’d just reset and go back to the right tempo and I just had to do my job up the climb.”
That was made easier for the former EF Education-Nippo rider, who is trying to make his way back to the WorldTour, by the work of his 21-year-old teammate.
“Matt Dinham set the tempo for me and made sure the guys that we’d dropped behind didn’t get back to me. It was pretty simple after that. It was just hold the wheel and win the thing and that’s what we did.”
Angus Lyon (ARA Pro Cycling Sunshine Coast) took the stage win from the break, which swept up the first seven places on the stage. In the meantime, the peloton exploded on the climb second placed GC rider Ben Hill (CCS Cycling) slipped back while the likes of Luke Plapp and Richie Porte of Team Garmin Australia took off, though their position on the GC posed no threat to the BridgeLane duo.
Though Jumbo-Visma rider Chris Harper, racing with Villawood at the Santos Festival of Cycling, was as he started the day 33 seconds behind Whelan and six behind Dinham.
“Once I saw we got rid of most of the GC guys, I think it was only Chris Harper up there at the end, so I just got on the front and did what I could to keep that gap opening up,” said Dinham. “Obviously I lost him [Whelan] a little bit over the top so dropped back to try and give him a bit of encouragement but yeah, he definitely didn’t need it. He was quite comfortable with that lead.”
That left Dinham free to stick to the wheel of Harper and Richie Porte on the final run to the line, conceding no time to Harper as he finished 11th while Whelan only shed three seconds to Harper and Dinham as he finished in 12th, leaving a considerable buffer of 24 seconds on the overall.
The second place on GC at the Santos Festival of Cycling and best young rider jersey for the versatile Dinham – who is also a mountain biker – continues his run of podiums this year after he also finished second in the U23 road race, criterium and time trial at the Australian Road National Championships earlier this month.
“On that climb I think he [Dinham] showed he was the strongest,” said Whelan. “He is an absolute talent. He is a young guy and for him to just ride the front like that when he is also high on GC, a credit to him and I’m just grateful for that.”
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