• Team Sky's Owain Doull takes the stage win with Luke Rowe following. (Con Chronis)Source: Con Chronis
Team Sky took a proactive role in Stage 3 of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour and ended up with a memorable 1-2 for their efforts, with Owain Doull and Luke Rowe crossing the finish together after a tough day in the breakaway into Warragul.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
1 Feb 2019 - 4:49 PM  UPDATED 2 Feb 2019 - 9:12 AM

A series of attacks from Rowe and Doull left the breakaway behind with five kilometres of the race remaining, combining their strength in a two-man time trial to escape their seven former companions.

The effort proved successful and the pair crossed the line together 29 seconds ahead of Liam White (Drapac-Cannondale), with Doull gifted the win by Rowe.

“Yeah it’s a buzz actually,” Doull said. “It’s my first proper professional win, it’s been a while since I had a win on the road, to do it at the start of the year in a nice race with good weather… I couldn’t be happier.”

The Welshman is better known for his heroics on the track as part of the world-record-breaking team pursuit team for Great Britain that took home gold at the Rio Olympics.

It was a very different race in hot conditions on a 167km stage from Sale to Warragul, with the decisive move coming five kilometres from the race finish after the Sky duo decided it would not pay to let it come down to a sprint between the breakaway riders.

“The gap was coming down pretty quickly with Mitchelton chasing and EF riding pretty hard as well,” Doull said. “Myself and Luke said we can’t go any faster with eight guys going through, so we said we’ll get everyone to go through and then with five kilometres to go we’ll start one-twoing.

“Luke went first, didn’t quite get the gap, I went over the top and got a gap and then Luke managed to get across and then TT it to the finish. It seems simple but it took a lot more than that.”

Doull’s win was the product of a Team Sky performance that looked to control the race from early on, making sure that any move that went had a strong Sky representation placed in it.

“I think we earmarked today’s stage as a potential day for the break to go with how the race was unfolding so far,” Doull said.

"We were both keen, both Luke and myself lost time yesterday so the break could get a bit of rope out on the road and the race came around perfectly for us, with two of us being away with five kilometres to go. Luke said to me ‘you can have it’ and I was more than happy to take it, so a good day.”

Team Sky has been keen to make their mark at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, nearly winning with Kristoffer Halvorsen on Stage 1, splitting up the race before the climb on Stage 2, then being very active in the early stages of the race in Stage 3.

“This group, we’ve been racing out here for almost a month now,” Doull said, “we started with [Santos Tour] Down Under and did well there with Wout Poels finishing third.

Cadel’s [Cadel Evans Road Race]… we had an okay Cadel’s, but I think it helps to have a captain like Luke Rowe here.

“Also having Brett Lancaster (Sports Director) here where he knows the roads, they both have the same idea of racing the same way, taking the initiative and always be on the front foot. For us, it’s an exciting way of racing and the most enjoyable way.”

With the break deemed a good chance of surviving at the start of the stage, a number of riders were keen to get into the selection early, and the teams fought hard to try and get their riders in the move.

A crash in the peloton sent several tumbling down, with Australian national road race champion Michael Freiberg (Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) and Carter Turnbull (KordaMentha Real Estate national team) abandoning the race and taken to the hospital. Freiberg was discharged, but Turnbull was kept in for observation after being knocked unconscious in the fall.

It was 35km before a group of nine was able to escape, with eight separate teams represented in the move. Team Sky were the only one team to have two riders present, alongside Conor Murtagh (Oliver’s Real Food Racing), Liam White (Drapac-Cannondale), Ryan Cavanagh (St George Continental), Neil van der Ploeg (Bridgelane), Will Clarke (Trek-Segafredo), Luke Mudgway (EvoPro Racing) and Nathan Elliott (KordaMenta Real Estate national team).

Once the break was established, EF Education First was seemingly happy to let them ride away, maintaining a sedate tempo until the front group had a gap of just over five minutes as the maximum advantage.

There was some disagreement within the front move and at one point Rowe had enough of a perceived lack of cooperation and led an attack which included Murtagh and Cavanagh before it was brought back by the remaining six riders.

The gap to the peloton had been reducing steadily on the run into the finish, so the front nine began to cooperate with more cohesion as they concentrated on holding the chase of EF Education First and Mitchelton-Scott on the front of the main bunch.

With 10km remaining the break had a minute and 20 seconds advantage and it appeared that it would be touch and go whether the move was caught, but then the Sky duo attacked, held off a spirited chase to win the day.

Third on the stage was Victorian Liam White of Drapac-Cannondale, who claimed one of the biggest results of his career. Happy as he crossed the finish after having attacked from the remnants of the break.

“It’s a big shock to be completely honest,” White said. “It was really hard to get into the break and we knew once the break went that it had the potential to go the distance. Once it got going, it was a really hard day.”

White, who is a regular on the domestic scene, found himself up amongst some WorldTour opposition, just a day after he spent the day off the front of the race in another early break. 

“Rowe attacked, I just couldn’t go with him,” White said. “Rhys (Pollock, sports director) was just saying ‘hold on to Wilbur’s (Will Clarke’s) wheel, hold on to Wilbur’s wheel’. I just put the head down, looked at his rear axle and just said, ‘hold, hold, hold, hold’. With just over one kilometre to go, I attacked and they all just looked at each other.”

There were mixed emotions at the finish for a clearly exhausted White, but he was clearly proud of his performance in a UCI-level race.

“It’s one of those things, in 2017 I was second on a stage at Tour of Iran,” White said. “But I think this has a bit more prestige to it and especially being in Australia, it’s a bit different.

“I’ve grown up watching this race for a very long time, so third… I’m pretty happy.”