Rice in the action all day at Jayco Herald Sun Tour

Credit: Con Chronis / Jayco Herald Sun Tour

The top four places on Stage 3 of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour may have gone to WorldTour teams, but ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast’s Michael Rice had a significant impact on the race.

The 178 kilometre stage from Bright to Wangaratta may have ended in a bunch sprint, but it was far from a procession to the finish as Michael Rice told Australian Cycling Insider.

“We went into it thinking it would be a tough stage,” said Rice.” We had the mindset of being in that break early, but I think the peloton had other ideas up Tawonga Gap.”

The first real break of the day was only established after 45 kilometres of hard, attacking racing, with the field significantly depleted by the ferocious tempo set by the WorldTour teams attempting to slip riders away into the early move.

“The field was reduced and we were a little bit low on numbers so when that move went, I went so we were represented.”

Rice found himself in a group with James Whelan (EF Education First), Ben Hill (Team Bridgelane), Carter Turnbull (KordaMentha national team/Inform TM Insight MAKE), James Oram (Black Spokes Cycling), Guilame Boivin (Israel Start Up Nation), Charles-Etienne Chretien and Tyler Stites (Aevolo). With Whelan just a minute and 11 seconds down on the race lead of Jai Hindley, Team Sunweb were motivated to chase the break and they kept a relatively tight leash on the move.

“We didn’t quite have the right mix of riders, one or two riders were a bit high on GC,” said Rice. “Then the fun and games began and it was the right decision at that point to come back to the peloton as I don’t think anyone saw that break surviving.

“There wasn’t a lot of cohesion from the beginning. I think people were hoping it was going to be a long-range move and once those GC riders were there it was pretty obvious that it wasn’t going to work.”

Key to the cooperation breaking down in the move was sprint jersey-wearer Ben Hill being rolled at the first intermediate sprint and then sitting on.

“With Benny (Hill), I thought there was some sort of gentleman’s agreement there,” said Rice. “I said to Benny that he could take the points and I’m not sure what they discussed.”

With Rice back in the peloton, team captain Michael Freiberg dropped back to the team car for a prolonged discussion with sports director Henk Vogels, coming up with a plan for the rest of the stage.

“We all regrouped and put Seb (Sebastian Barrett) in his first tour and Ashley (Mackay) on the front to bring the break back,” said Rice. “Over that last KOM it was all together as a one race.

“We knew that it was going to be a short, hard climb and from the top it was all downhill so we just wanted to be in a good position. We started at the front and were lucky to get over the top near the front.

“The race was splitting up but it all came together after the descent. It was pretty controlled, all together. I think there were one and twos trying for that late dig.

“The last few kilometres always get a bit dicey, but that’s why we love it. Unfortunately, we were just good enough for fifth but we’ll keep trying.”

Rice has come from three seasons in one of the world’s premier development teams Hagens Berman Axeon. However, he has now returned to Aussie squad ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast, with Stuart Shaw the team’s performance director also Rice’s coach. Rice has mixed it up in consecutive sprint finishes, with sixth in the first stage, now only finishing behind WorldTour fast men in Stage 3.

“Freiberg positioned me really well,” said Rice. “I went into that corner on Kaden Groves and Dainese’s wheel. I thought I was in a pretty good position and tried to hold their slipstream, but they were a bit quicker than me today. We have to keep trying to improve.”  

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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger