Dylan van Baarle (Team Sky) and Nick Schultz (Mitchelton-Scott) came onto the final ascent of Arthur’s Seat with a big gap over the nearest chasers and two minutes on race leader Michael Woods (EF Education First) and pre-race favourite Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo).
Van Baarle sat ahead of Schultz on the general classification and only had to follow the Australian on the climb. He managed that until the final few metres when Schultz was able to kick clear and take the win.
Schultz has forged his own way in the sport, racing mostly overseas with smaller French and Spanish outfits to get himself to the point where he was picked up by a WorldTour squad. To take a win so early in his first season for the squad exceeded even his expectations.
“It means the world,” Schultz said. “I’ve been kicking around in Spain for two years on a smaller Pro Conti outfit, it was a great experience. I couldn’t thank Mitchelton-Scott enough for the chance to be here and to be part of a structure that allows a win like that.
“I think it was at the end of 2016 that I had a stagiare stint (with Mitchelton-Scott), the year after I went to Caja Rural. When I went into the team Whitey [Sport Director Matt White] was pretty clear that there wasn’t going to be a spot for me and it was about getting experience but they said not to discount it in the future.
“I thought at the time that everyone who has a stagiare stint gets that said to them. But two years later here I am.”
Schultz had to gamble to make it into the early breakaway, risking his position on the general classification at the chance to potentially take a memorable victory and move up the overall standings.
“A lot of it was down to right time, right place,” Schultz said. “The whole team was really strong and we put the GC teams under the pump right from kilometre zero and I was the lucky one to sneak into the right move that was given a bit of leeway.
“It was a perfect scenario. Sky had numbers up there and Dylan ahead of me on GC and they just drilled it until two laps to go when Dylan and I jumped. From there it was all out and I just had to go as deep as I could to the line to get the win.”
Schultz came into the final climb with van Baarle, and set a tough tempo at the front, eventually kicking again in the final few hundred metres to take the win.
“I think at the bottom of the climb we were both at our limit," Schultz said. "He pulled harder than me on the flat part of the circuit and the descent. I had an inkling that we were both on our limit and with his GC ambitions in mind, I guess it suited both of us to ride hard up the climb.”
Van Baarle stayed close enough to the final surge of Schultz and limped over the line and collapsed immediately after, moving in the general classification lead with his strong ride.
“It was not actually the plan that I was in the break,” van Baarle said. “The plan was that Christian [Knees] and Luke [Rowe] were there. Then I saw EF was really suffering to closet the gap on the big group. I saw Christian and Luke going and thought that this was the right moment.
“Nick did a great last climb from the bottom full gas to the finish. At one moment, 150 to go I thought he was dying but he kept going and I was totally empty.”
Van Baarle was the beneficiary of superb teamwork from Rowe and Knees, who sacrificed themselves admirably towards the goal of holding off a fading EF Education First team.
Team Sky have brought a much more aggressive mindset to the race than the controlled style they have become renowned for in recent years. Not content to sit back in the race, the Herald Sun Tour has exemplified a change in mindset that gave them the panache to pull off an audacious move like the long-range raid with three riders off the front.
“Of course, we have the most good riders in the team,” van Baarle said. “But you have to make a plan as well. If there’s no plan everyone’s doing their own thing. That’s not what we do here and it makes us the best team I guess.
“This morning there were still two stages left. You never know what’s going to happen and if you don’t try, even if Michael and Richie are the best climbers in the world, you still have to try.”
The race started with a very hot pace right from the dropping of the flag, with teams clearly willing to put the tired riders in trouble early. EF Education First, missing Alberto Bettiol with an illness going into the race, with only a few climbers on the roster and having protected the race lead the previous stage, were obvious targets.
An initial group of fifteen riders went away briefly but was brought back by the American outfit, but a subsequent attack from three Team Sky riders got a decent gap after 20km of racing. Eight riders eventually made the move with the initial attack of five waiting for three riders who bridged from the peloton.
The trio of Sky riders, van Baarle, Luke Rowe and Knees, were joined by Alastair Donohoe (Pro Racing Sunshine Coast), Hayden McCormick (Bridgelane), Schultz, Nathan Elliott (KordaMentha Real Estate national team) and Will Clarke (Trek-Segafredo).
Knees and Rowe committed to riding as hard as possible for van Baarle and quickly put a gap into the peloton with the main bunch slowing up to allow a little breather to refill on bottles from the team cars with hot conditions out on course.
The breakaway reached a maximum advantage of two and a half minutes as the riders reached the first ascent of Arthur’s Seat. A spot fire had flared up at the base of the well-known climb, but it was quickly extinguished by the Country Fire Authority.
The heat, however, wasn’t diminished in the race, with riders regularly losing touch with the peloton as the race continued at a torturous pace. EF Education First maintained their lone chase of the dangerous break without help from Trek-Segafredo, though the hopes of Richie Porte were suffering as much as Woods.
A further lap and another ascent of Arthur’s Seat saw more riders dropped, with neo-professional James Whelan left chasing on the front of the now heavily reduced peloton. Trek Segafredo lent a hand to the chase with the gap still at one minute and 40 seconds and 35km remaining.
Into the second-last ascent of Arthur’s Seat and van Baarle launched off the front of the race, with only Schultz able to follow the attack. Donohoe was the best of the remaining riders and came close to following the move.
The peloton was struggling in the chase with Whelan, in particular, blowing in dramatic fashion and having to be held up by Owain Doull (Team Sky) on the lower slopes of the climb. Chris Harper (Bridgelane) made an attack from the peloton and quickly established a gap as the now 15-rider ‘peloton’ crested Arthur’s Seat for the penultimate time.
With the remaining riders unwilling to cooperate with Woods, it quickly became apparent that the race win and overall victory was going to be decided between the front two riders. Onto the final climb, van Baarle and Schultz had two minutes lead over the yellow jersey of Woods, with Harper being helped by former breakaway rider Hayden McCormick to start the climb just within sight of the leaders.
The strong pace of Schultz ensured a stage win for him and that the overall lead would go to van Baarle, with Harper leaping up the general classification as he finished in third, while Donohoe just held off the charging group of Kenny Elissonde (Team Sky), Lucas Hamilton (Mitchelton-Scott) and Woods, with Porte just in arrears.
One of the hardest days of racing in the summer ended up producing one of the most impressive spectacles of attacking racing in recent memory, with a race-upending result.