There was a steep butcher’s toll from Stage 4 of the Tour Down Under, with crashes at the back of the peloton sending riders flying as teams jostled for position with crosswinds expected to cause havoc.
The winds never materialised, but the havoc wasn’t far away as UniSA riders Tyler Lindorff and Kell O’Brien were caught up in falls and both put into the trailing ambulance for assessment before being taken to hospital.
Team director Andrew Christie-Johnston, seconded from Team Bridgelane for the race, talked through the difficulties the team has faced so far.
“A lot of the talk has been about the amount of crashes,” Christie-Johnston said. “Every day we’ve been involved in some sort of crash, but I’m sure that’s the same for all these teams. You’d have been lucky to avoid it.”
“They (O’Brien and Lindorff) are going into surgery this morning; Kell has to get his collarbone pinned and Tyler needs a plate and pin on his ulna and wrist.”
UniSA have copped the raw end of the crash luck in the race, with Lindorff bearing the worst of it crashing on stages 2, 3 and 4 to go with two crashes in the Under 23 road race at nationals. The young West Australian came into the race as the youngest in the UniSA team, but with expectations as the best pure climber.
“We came in with the goal of trying to target the young rider’s jersey with Jarrad (Drizners) or Tyler and just straight-up it’s been a very challenging Tour for us crash-wise,” said Christie-Johnston.
“Tyler still has two years of Under 23, but I thought it was a good opportunity and he was ready to at least sample what this racing was like. I don’t know what he’s done, he’s broken a few mirrors or something, but nothing has been his fault.
“He’s just been caught behind mass crashes except for one, where a rider came underneath him and he got shot straight to the barriers with Tyler having nowhere to go.”
The long-time director was impressed with the team spirit after what has been a rough few days.
“This group has been really good,” he said. "Even Tyler and Kell from their hospital beds last night have been really active on social media interacting with the guys and providing some banter.
"They’re disappointed to lose their teammates, but they’re switched back on today and concentrating on our goals. We’ve still got Jarrad up there in the young rider’s and we’ll try to sneak him to the top, and also try our hand in the breaks.”
A number of the riders are auditioning for potential WorldTour rides down the line. While the likes of Drizners, Lindorff, White and Jenner have a lot of road races to impress potential suitors, the Tokyo-bound (subject to selection) endurance track riders in Sam Welsford, Cameron Scott and O’Brien are on limited time here to show their best.
All three have shown their potential with wins in the National Road Series, but matching it against the sprint trains at WorldTour level has proven tough.
“It’s a complete different kettle of fish here, the level is insane,” Welsford said.
“Every time you use a bit of power you feel that in the sprint as it’s such a hard run-in. It’s good learning and I think it will add to my sprinting form tenfold. The intensity into the sprints is probably one of the hardest things I’ve felt.”
While the positioning may have been lacking at times, Welsford hasn’t looked out of place when the sprint finally opens up into a dash for the line, showing he’ll likely be more than handy in fields of this quality into the future.
“I’ve shown on the track that I’ve got the speed,” said Welsford, “the hardest part in the WorldTour is getting to the point where you can unload that sprint, without having to use too much energy pushing wind or coming from behind.
The ‘audition’ aspect of the race isn’t lost on the West Australian either.
“I wanted to come here to do it and show the WorldTour teams that I can consistently run top 10s,” said Welsford, “which I managed in the crit (Schwalbe Classic) and Stage 1. Not too many sprinting opportunities, especially for the pure sprinters, which is me with my track weight at the moment. It’s hard to get over the climbs.
“Hopefully I’ve attracted the attention of some of those teams so I can make that switch over to the WorldTour.”
Christie-Johnston has a long history of ushering riders into the WorldTour peloton and knows better than most what they need to show to get there.
“Results are the easiest things to show,” said Christie-Johnston, “but results are very difficult at this level. So, say for Sam, it’s about being amongst it and showing his speed.
“He feels comfortable being out and around it and a lot of guys will know who Sam Welsford is now whether that’s banging bars or showing speed. He’s been close, but we don’t have that strength to position him at the right time. But you speak to a lot of sprinters in these teams and they’re all having that battle.”
“As soon as the Olympics are finished for someone like Sam, I wouldn’t be surprised if a decent road squad picks him up. He’s immensely talented, it’s the same with all these guys, there’s normally someone that gets picked, either this year or next.”
After a pretty brutal examination at the Tour Down Under, the road rookies will have to wait until contract season later in the year to see if they’ve turned any heads, but until then it will be a learning experience as Christie-Johnston concludes.
“It’s a tough introduction and they’re probably not getting what they wanted out of it, but they’ll walk away with some great experience. Racing on the road after this one will be easy.”