Stevie Williams may have narrowly missed the win on stage 5 of the Santos Tour Down Under but the Welshman was just as happy to put the leader’s ochre jersey on with one stage remaining.
Coming into the WorldTour stage race, Williams may not have been at the top of the favorites list but all week he has assumed a leadership role within the team and today, on the queen stage of the race, he proved why.
With the full support of the team and an incredible show of teamwork all day, Williams was perfectly positioned ahead of the second and final ascent of Willunga Hill. When the attacks started, he was right there on the wheel and as he turned the final corner, only Oscar Onley (Team dsm-firmenich PostNL) was able to beat the Welshman on the line.
“It was a tough final, as expected,” explained Williams. “We knew it would just be whittled down until the line and I found myself with good legs with 500 meters to go, in a perfect position. I slightly underestimated how far the finish line was from the last corner. Ideally I would have gone into that last corner first and could have held on but credit to Oscar Onley.
“I’m happy with my performance. I’m really proud of my teammates and how they backed me all day. It was such a great ride from everyone. Obviously, Corbin had a difficult day and had to withdraw which is a shame for us because he is another rider who could have done well on a finish like this.”
The Tour Down Under typically comes down to seconds and tomorrow will be no different with Williams and Onley sitting on equal time with Williams in the race lead thanks to the count back of previous stage results.
“I knew it was going to be close. Obviously we are on the same time, so I have the lead on count back. That sprint finish on stage 2 has come in handy with those four bonus seconds I picked up. I’m really pleased to be in this jersey and give it back to the boys who have done such a good job today. Tomorrow will be a tough stage and hard to control as it is still very close there on the General Classification with the top five or six guys within a handful of seconds. I expect it will be a pretty stressful day but the guys I have here are so experienced so I have no doubt we will do our best to fight for it.”
In the race car behind, Williams has benefited from the experience of Sports Directors Sam Bewley and Daryl Impey, the later a two-time winner himself.
“Today was a great day for us,” said Bewley at the finish line. “We were always confident that Stevie could do well up Willunga Hill as it’s a climb that really suits him. He was our joker card since the start of the week, and when Corbin got sick on the second day of the Tour, we had to start slowly switching our focus to Stevie as we assessed Corbin’s health each day. Today, we were all in for Stevie and the confidence he got from his teammate’s belief in him was huge. We had our plan of how to ride the stage and the guys hit every single marker. It made me proud to watch it unfold, and tomorrow we will try to win the Tour Down Under.”
Williams praised the support from his teammates and Sports Directors and the confidence they have placed in his ability to win the race.
“There is no one better to have in the car or in my ear than Daryl Impey and Sam Bewley. Daryl was giving me a pep talk at breakfast this morning and it’s great to have his experience combined with Bewls. Simon Clarke is such a good road captain to have. Every ascent, every descent, just to have someone that experienced in the chaos is unbelievable. He just has this knack of being in the right place at the right time. To have him in my corner, and all of the other guys, has just been so good.”
Having battled with sickness since stage 2, Corbin Strong was forced to abandon during the stage with the heat and hard racing proving to be too much. He will rest up ahead of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.