Before a pedal was turned at the Tour of Tasmania, Inform TM Insight MAKE (Inform) led the team classification comfortably on 2037 points to Bridgelane’s 1454.
But a clean sweep on the mountainous stages around the north of Tasmania ensured Bridgelane’s successful coup for the overall NRS team classification.
On Stage 2, several attacks by WorldTour-bound riders Chris Harper (Jumbo-Visma) and Dylan Sunderland (Team NTT/Dimension Data) left rival teams in their wake - the duo separating to make it up the 16-kilometre Poatina climb with Harper crossing the line first for stage honours.
Bridgelane duo Jason Lea and youngster Tyler Lindorff used the fact their teammates were up the road to sit and wait, before jumping away in the final kilometres to finish in third and fourth.
They managed a 1-2 the next day as race leader Dylan Sunderland flew away from the peloton, after the key climb of Gunns Plains, to claim the stage win while Nick White won the bunch sprint to give Bridgelane a comfortable buffer heading into the final criterium around Devonport, where they maintained their lead.
By virtue of amassing positions on the general classification as well as their stage results, Bridgelane had seemingly completed the near-impossible task of overcoming the point advantage of Inform.
When it came to the awards presentation, one announcement was conspicuously absent, the presentation of the overall team classification leaders.
Inform had, for the second time in the race, challenged the validity of Harper’s standing and as a result, Bridgelane’s NRS team classification victory.
Harper crashed on the first corner of the uphill prologue and nursed himself to the finish, minutes behind winner Cameron Ivory’s (GPM-Stulz) blistering time.
But his time was reset to the finishing time of the second-last rider, meaning Harper started Stage 1 just 44 seconds down on the race lead, and very much in the hunt for the general classification, with his points critical to Bridgelane’s slim hopes of securing the NRS team classification.
Chief Commissaire Peter Tomlinson used the broad powers of discretion granted within Cycling Australia regulations to amend Harper’s time to the next last-placed finisher.
Inform TM Insight MAKE inquired about the reason for the time adjustment, then lodged a protest but an independent panel dismissed it.
During this process a specific Cycling Australia regulation 220.127.116.11 was cited: “Any rider who suffers an accident during the prologue and is unable to complete the distance shall be credited with the time of the slowest rider in order to contest the following stage”.
Despite that appeal being dismissed, a second Inform protest was launched prior to the running of the final stage.
Inform’s protests centre around the Chief Commissaire’s application and explanation of the rules, particularly the discrepancy with the rule as written.
Cycling Australia confirmed on Tuesday that the general classification results at the Tour of Tasmania would not be altered by the protest.
With the protest dismissed, Bridgelane secured the series by a razor-thin margin of 2284 points versus Inform’s 2248.
In comments immediately after the final stage, Inform sports director Pat Lane talked of the overall series and having the lead taken away so late in the piece.
“It’s a really hard one to know how to feel,” said Lane of his and the team’s emotions before the protest came to light.
“Obviously, naturally you are disappointed but if we knew we knew where we’d be at the start ... the team has had a super successful year, more than we thought.
“It is a bit disappointing, it’s funny how it all falls, you can be the best in eight out of nine rounds but when something like that happens there’s not much you can do about it.”
The impressive coup by Bridgelane takes the spotlight away from Inform, who had been the most consistent team all season - led by key veterans in Nathan Elliott and Raphael Freienstein, as well as emerging star of the sport Jarrad Drizners.
Drizners’ title - as the overall individual winner of the NRS - in both the elite and young rider category was near-impossible to pass coming into the race and it’s fitting that he’ll be moving onto greater things in 2020, as he takes up a position with the world’s premier development squad, Hagens Berman Axeon.
“It’s good for us to see that guys can stay with us and we can take them through and pass them on to teams like that," Lane said.
"It’s a little tick of approval that guys can ride for us and progress. They’re probably the best team in the world for someone like that to go to.”
Bridgelane, the now nine-time consecutive winners of the NRS, came into the Tour of Tasmania thinking that this was finally the time that they would be knocked off the pinnacle domestically.
“There’s no doubt that at the start we didn’t think it was achievable,” Bridgelane sports director Andrew Christie-Johnston said.
“We knew it was possible because mathematically it worked but we’re amazed by this group of lads.
"They’re all pretty pumped, they feel like they’ve done the impossible."
“We’ve won this tour quite a few times but I’ve never had a team that’s gone 1-2-3-4. It just shows the climbing talent we have in this group. Every year we tend to do something special and this is where we did it this year.”
The squad had comparatively been struggling domestically but performed well overseas. Wins at the Tour of Japan and Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc saw their star climbers Harper and Sunderland secure World Tour deals.
“We’ve often done this overseas program and still been able to comfortably win the NRS in the past,” Christie-Johnston said.
“That hasn’t been the case this year. If we’re not at our best, with our best team we find it very difficult to compete. That shows the strength of the NRS, but particularly Inform.”
The effect of the change in the team classification is that now Bridgelane’s riders will contest the Tour Down Under as part of the national team, while Inform will be invited to the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
There has been a slight lessening of the prize however, with a shift in the regulations meaning that rather than getting five rider positions assigned to them to fill, they may now have up to five riders.
This has seen a push from the Australian Cycling Team, the high performance branch of Cycling Australia, for more stars of the track scene to race as part of the squad, with the likes of Sam Welsford, Cam Scott and Kell O’Brien likely to feature.
The women’s NRS wrapped up with frontrunners Roxsolt-Attaquer putting an accent on top of their NRS overall team classification and individual win with Emily Herfoss by taking out the Tour of Tasmania with an impressive 1-2 for Sarah Gigante and Justine Barrow.