• Mitchelton-Scott: More a winning team than a team of winners. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
For a 20th anniversary edition this year's Santos Tour Down Under had just about everything a cycling aficionado could wish for, writes Anthony Tan.
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Cycling Central
22 Jan 2018 - 7:47 AM  UPDATED 22 Jan 2018 - 8:08 AM

'Stages the target in super sprint showcase at Santos Tour Down Under'.

The headline in their January 9 press release couldn't have been more unequivocal: it was a singularly-focused strategy.

"Mitchelton-Scott today named the seven-man team who will support star sprinter Caleb Ewan in a packed field at the Santos Tour Down Under next week.

"In a change from recent campaigns, the team will take a singular rather than split focus into their home and the first WorldTour race of the 2018 season," it went on to say, "focusing solely on stage victories rather than overall honours in what is shaping up to be a sprinters' showcase."

The only sign given that this team was hedging their bets came when head sports director Matt White said "Caleb is in great shape but the level of competition is really high this year – Greipel, Sagan, Viviani and Caleb. It's the best sprint field they've had in the past 20 years," he remarked, suggesting a repeat of their quadruple stage win haul with Ewan last year would be a tough ask. It alluded to the possibility that with Damien Howson or Daryl Impey, they may also target a high place on general classification.

But no-one thought they would win. Least of all Impey.

Impey confirms TDU overall as Greipel wins the last stage
Daryl Impey has confirmed his Tour Down Under title while Andre Greipel beat Caleb Ewan to win the final stage in Adelaide.

"I've gone pretty well up Willunga before, maybe not this well," the 33-year-old South African said the day he slipped into ochre, "but also I have come here as a bit of a protected rider this year, so I think it pays dividends at the end of a race like this. That being said it is always a question mark, so when you surprise yourself like today it is special."

It's not the first time this team has been a little disingenuous about targeting the overall, only to perform well above public forecasts.

At the 2016 Tour de France, they told anyone who would listen that Adam Yates would be riding his second Grande Boucle and third Grand Tour for experience only - only for the talented climber to move to second overall after one week, third after a fortnight, and finish fourth in Paris, where he also won the young rider classification by more than two minutes. Only after the race concluded did White concede a high GC had in fact been an objective, the 'racing for experience' line a tactic used to alleviate pressure from Yates' shoulders and divert media attention away from him.

Concerning the team, arguably the greatest difference between these two events is not the quality, depth of talent or time of year, but that it has taken Impey this long to discover how good he really is - and can be. "It is a step up in my career; you get these little stepping stones and you reach bigger milestones and I've proved myself now, as I've always had a little bit of self-doubt."

Self-doubt. A professional athlete's Achilles' Heel. Yet, strangely enough, if it can be overcome, the very thing that drives oneself to be better, to scale heights previously thought unattainable.

So then, after six years' selfless service for the team now known as Mitchelton-Scott, where to from here? Back to being a domestique, or more leadership opportunities for Impey V2.0?

"I said at the start of the week and I'll say it again, he's the most versatile rider on our roster. He's certainly taken it to another level this year. He's got a big opportunity to fill the shoes of some of the guys who have left and he's taken it with two hands," White told Cycling Central's Sophie Smith last Saturday.

Mitchelton-Scott expects more from Impey in 2018
Days after being heralded as Mitchelton-Scott's most versatile rider, Daryl Impey has stunned the Tour Down Under and all but won the 20th edition on countback.

"He's got some big, big targets coming up and I'm so proud of him. He's worked his arse off. This is the biggest win of his career and a massive win for the team."

Before too long I imagine they'll be some rearranging of plans, but one thing White and team general manager Shayne Bannan do with aplomb is provide those who deserve opportunities, opportunities. It's easily the most egalitarian set-up on the WorldTour; no mean feat, since to get to where they are, pro riders, for the most part, have been hard-wired to behave the exact opposite.

That their overall budget is one-third to half that of Team Sky, BMC Racing and Katusha-Alpecin only underlines their many and varied successes. Aussies love an underdog, and Mitchelton-Scott love playing the part. At this year's Tour Down Under, Impey, despite being South African, was the quintessential Aussie Battler: not quite good enough to win a stage, but over six days' hard graft, better than the rest. "He was the best bike rider here this week because he was the most consistent across the six days, so he thoroughly deserves this win," White said Sunday in Adelaide.

Impey's victory is also good for the TDU because quite frankly, it was becoming a bit of an Aussie-fest. That a variety of nationalities experienced glory; that there was no one dominant sprinter; that we saw a number of changes of leadership; and that for the third time in the race's 20-year history, the race winner was decided on a count-back of stage placings, for mine made this one to remember.

”It's one of the most special races of the season, so I will like to come back next year and wear the number one; you don't get too many opportunities to do that."

Best one ever? Yep, I think it was. See you in Adelaide next year, Daryl.