Ev­ery sec­ond counts for Im­pey

Procycling - - Con­tetns -

Anal­y­sis, in­sight and data

Richie Porte’s an­nual at­tack on Wil­lunga Hill at the Tour Down Un­der is so much a part of the road sea­son’s fab­ric now that you can set your swatch by it. Some­where around 1,500 me­tres to go on the iconic South Aus­tralian hill, which usu­ally ap­pears on the penul­ti­mate day of the race, the Aus­tralian punches hard on the ped­als, drops ev­ery­body and wins the stage. He’s done it five years in a row now, and in 2017 it gave him the over­all ti­tle. It should have been enough this year as well. Porte was by far the strong­est climber on the day, and he duly won his stage as he con­tin­ues to revel in be­ing back af­ter his 2017 sea­son ended at the Tour de France on stage 9. How­ever, the Mitchel­tonS­cott rider Daryl Im­pey had been spend­ing the pre­vi­ous four days putting to­gether an in­sur­ance pol­icy, bit by bit, and on Wil­lunga Hill, he cashed it in. Im­pey had gained a hand­ful of bonus sec­onds here and there in the sprints across the pre­vi­ous stages, which had given him a head start on Porte. As the BMC rider surged away on Wil­lunga, Im­pey was steadily rid­ing up in his wake, pass­ing the over­am­bi­tious rid­ers who’d tried the im­pos­si­ble task of fol­low­ing Porte, and whose chal­lenges were melt­ing in the heat. The gap be­tween Porte and Im­pey in the GC on the morn­ing of the fifth stage had been 12 sec­onds, in Im­pey’s favour. Porte’s stage win would gain him 10. How­ever Im­pey’s im­pend­ing sec­ond place would give six back to the South African. Twelve mi­nus 10 plus six equals eight sec­onds. Later, pun­dits would re­fer to the head­wind on the climb hav­ing pre­vented Porte from win­ning by

more, but Im­pey faced the same wind. The dif­fer­ence had come in a dozen or more sep­a­rate de­ci­sions and moves by Im­pey to can­cel out Porte’s climb­ing ad­van­tage over a pe­riod of months and days, and the fi­nal one came right at the end of the stage. Porte show­boated across the fin­ish line, his arms aloft. Im­pey sprinted all the way in and the clock stopped ex­actly on eight sec­onds. Enough to give him the over­all lead, and one day later, the over­all race win.

No­body had re­alised Mitchel­ton had come to the race to put Im­pey on the podium. The team’s man­age­ment had orig­i­nally in­tended Este­ban Chaves, sec­ond over­all in 2017, to come back and try to win. But in­juries at the end of last sea­son put Chaves’s train­ing back and the man­age­ment felt the TDU would be just too soon for him. They de­cided to back Im­pey, and in ret­ro­spect the signs were ob­vi­ous. In 2013, Im­pey had spent a week at the Tour de France chip­ping away at mov­ing up the gen­eral clas­si­fi­ca­tion be­fore land­ing him­self the yel­low jer­sey. High sprint plac­ings, get­ting over the climbs in hillier stages, Orica win­ning the team time trial and fi­nally a split on a draggy fin­ish, gave him all the time gains he needed to take yel­low for two days. Im­pey has form in ac­cu­mu­lat­ing mar­ginal gains. Plus, not only is Im­pey a good sprinter, ca­pa­ble of top fives against the very best and of win­ning when hills have put heav­ier rid­ers out, but he can climb – sharp-eyed ob­servers might have no­ticed that in 2014, the first year Porte won on Wil­lunga Hill at the Tour Down Un­der, Im­pey had been fifth, only 14 sec­onds be­hind. The team also had the per­fect smoke­screen for Im­pey’s chal­lenge in Caleb Ewan, who’d won four sprint stages in the TDU the year be­fore and would be the pub­lic face of Mitchel­ton’s chal­lenge, even if An­dré Greipel, with first and last-day stage wins, would emerge as the most suc­cess­ful sprinter this year.

Ewan was such an ef­fec­tive smoke­screen that he ac­tu­ally won a stage, mak­ing Mitchel­ton’s ri­vals think that he was the sole fo­cus of their race. How­ever, Im­pey was qui­etly chip­ping away. He was sec­ond to team-mate Ewan at Stir­ling, one of the stages that tend to put out the big­ger sprint­ers. Two days later he was sec­ond at Uraidla, just get­ting over­hauled by Peter Sa­gan on the line. And then came the Wil­lunga Hill stage. It was as if Porte had come to a box­ing fight aim­ing to win with one punch. Im­pey, on the other hand, had been plan­ning to jab his way to a points ver­dict. The South African came sec­ond in a sprint to one of the two best flat sprint­ers in the race. He then came sec­ond on a rolling stage to the best Clas­sics sprinter in the world. And he then came sec­ond on the hilli­est day to the best climber in the race. In a race de­cided by time bonuses and fine mar­gins, he’d ac­cu­mu­lated enough sec­onds to give him first place.

In 2014, the irst year Porte won on Wil­lunga Hill at the Tour Down Un­der, Im­pey had been ifth, 14 sec­onds be­hind

Thomas De Gendt leads the break­away on the irst as­cent of Wil­lunga Hill on stage 5 of the TDU

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