It’s a special experience being on Willunga Hill when Richie Porte launches his trademark attack, the crowd lets loose its pent-up joy as everyone realises they’ve held a collective breath, waiting for that signature moment.
While Porte currently drives that drama and emotion, it's worth taking note of the first rider to respond to the iconic climber's surge.
Aussie youngster Chris Hamilton positioned himself snugly on Porte's wheel and was able to follow the Tasmanian's first blistering attack.
“The guys on my team did a massive job to hold me in such good position,” said the Team Sunweb rider. "I found Richie came past at the base of the climb on that last lap and I thought this is going to be the best wheel to follow, so I just stuck on him for the first one and a half to two kilometres of the climb.
“When he went, I was a bit unsure but I was like ‘I’m here now, you can’t wonder what would have happened if I’d gone with him’. I tried, stuck with him for a little bit. I was fully on my limit and he went again.
“It was an incredible ride by him, I have so much respect for the guy. It was a slog to the line from there.”
Hamilton came into the race with designs on the general classification but surpassed his and the team’s goal for the race by winning the young rider’s classification and taking sixth overall, 26 seconds adrift of race-winner Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott).
“The jersey was never really a focus for us,” said Hamilton, “we came here with the aim of getting me in the top 10 on GC. That’s what we were riding for all day, we weren’t riding for the young rider’s jersey or anything like that.”
“I’m rapt to end up in sixth on GC, it’s well beyond my expectations. The young rider’s jersey is a massive honour and really caps it off.”
The result underlines the potential Team Sunweb recognised in Hamilton when they signed him to his first professional deal starting in 2017. He is yet to take a WorldTour win, but performances like his Tour Down Under ride highlight Hamilton's capacity to take that next step.
“I would certainly hope so,” said Hamilton when asked if he could win this sort of race in the future. “Looking back to even last year, I wouldn’t consider going with Richie and 12 months later to be in a position where I can say ‘ok, let’s do this’, It’s a massive deal for me. I’m so grateful for the team and how they’ve helped me and developed me so far in my career.”
Luke Roberts, Sunweb’s sports director at the Tour Down Under, was full of praise for his young charge.
“He’s a really easy-going guy,” said Roberts. “Very friendly, easy to work with. People want to invest time in him and work for him.”
“He came here as our designated GC leader and he hasn’t let us down. He came here motivated and well prepared for the race.”
Hamilton was recruited to the WorldTour after moving over from mountain-biking and delivering a strong string of road results during the 2016 Australian summer for the Australian national teams and the then Avanti-IsoWhey Sports squad (now Bridgelane). A collision with a car in mid-2016 curtailed his development and he found he still had plenty to learn once making the step up to the professional ranks.
“He’s come from a mountain bike background and when he first came here (back in 2017) he struggled quite a bit with the bunch racing,” said Roberts. “We’ve just taken small steps and he’s been developing great over the last couple of years on this team.
“This was going to be another test for him to see if he can make that next step. We were hoping for a top ten and to come in sixth and take the white jersey, it’s a big result for him.”
The result and the manner in which it came states clearly that Hamilton is a rider to watch in the future, maybe one day it will be the affable rider from Bendigo that keeps the crowd spellbound on Willunga Hill.