The king and the heir apparent take Willunga Hill 1-2

It was an almost quintessential Richie Porte (Garmin-Australia) performance to win the 88.2 kilometre stage from Mclaren Vale to the summit finish on Willunga Hill. However, it was the ride of Luke Plapp (Garmin-Australia) in second that was the strongest of the day, while Luke Durbridge (Team BikeExchange) retained the overall lead.

Porte struck out relatively early on Willunga Hill, jumping clear over two kilometres from the line and not being passed as he again took the win atop the climb that he’s made his own. There was a twist this time, as he was caught by his teammate and Stage 2 winner Luke Plapp within the final kilometre, with the 20-year-old sitting on the wheel of his high profile team leader and allowing Porte to take the win.

“The rider of the day was Plappy in second there, he could have easily come around me and he didn’t,” said Porte. “It’s been a great race. I don’t have the form I normally would, I had to go longer than I normally would to and that hurt so much. It’s just great to be back racing.”

There was a lot of doubt around the form of Porte, who did a two-week quarantine to re-enter Australia just over a month ago, and was only sighted in a support role for his teammates early in the race. Willunga Hill was a different story however, as it so often is for the Tasmanian as he again showed why he’s called the ‘King of Willunga’.

“One month ago I came out of quarantine a little bit rotund,” said Porte. “I worked hard, I had some really good training mates back in Tassie and they kicked me back into gear.”

“Yes, it’s not the WorldTour but it’s still a hard, hard race. I’m almost 36, it’s nice to be up there still.”

Baking conditions of 35 degrees Celsius greeted the riders for the early afternoon start in Mclaren Vale with Luke Durbridge (Team BikeExchange) holding a commanding lead at the start of the race after his Stage 1 heroics.

An early breakaway established itself off the front of the race with Tristan Saunders (Butterfields-Insurance Advisernet), Tom Bolton (Oliver’s Real Food), Marcus Culey (UKYO), Cyrus Monk (CycleHouse), Will Hodges (Giant Racing), Drew Morey (Bridgelane), Angus Lyons, Craig Wiggins (both ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) and Brad Soden (MEIYO CCN).

The large group of escapees cooperated well to drive the advantage out to a maximum of two and a half minute’s lead, prompting a chase from the Garmin-Australia national team, Cervelo-Tonsley Village, chasing for leaders Luke Plapp and Chris Harper respectively.

The intermediate sprints were contested by Monk and Bolton, with the CycleHouse rider adding to his two points banked already to win one sprint and place second in the other to move into the virtual lead of the jersey classification.

The pace rarely went off at the front of the race with Wiggins notably sacrificing his chances to aid Lyons’ shot at a win and moving up on the general classification.

The strong chase from Garmin-Australia continued to bring the break’s gap back, it was at a minute and 15 seconds with nine kilometres remaining, and the gap was down to 45 seconds by the base of the three-kilometre climb to the peak of Willunga Hill.

Chris Harper (Cervelo-Tonsley Village) took off at the base of the ascent, the steepest portion of the climb, and initially built a small gap with Elliot Schultz (MEIYO CCN) jumping to his wheel. The peloton came from behind, led by Porte, who put the hammer down as the main bunch caught Harper then the two strongest riders from the break, Lyons and Morey.

Porte shook his way clear of a stubborn Morey and it was all as normal as the annointed ‘King of Willunga’ went free on the climb he’s made his own. That was until Plapp was sighted in the distance, having attacked clear of the elite climbing group containing the likes of Harper, Ben Metcalfe (Bridgelane), Lionel Mawditt (St George), Brendon Davids (Oliver’s Real Food), Dylan McKenna (Nero Continental) and Durbridge.

Plapp reached Porte with 600 metres left on the climb, staying in the Tour de France podium-getter’s wheel, applauding Porte over the line as he took second. Durbridge finished third to secure his stranglehold on the race lead, two minutes ahead of Plapp.

“It’s pretty unreal,” said Plapp after the finish. “I followed Richie the whole way, it’s exciting to watch him and see how it’s done. It’s about getting myself out there and having some fun.”

Plapp is the youngest member of the team pursuit squad, was named on the team for the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics and will likely line up for the team in the rescheduled 2021 event. This result highlights his road potential, and Plapp has road ambitions, but there’s plenty of time for that after the Olympics.

“All systems ahead for Tokyo this year,” said Plapp, “after that we’ll re-evaluate.”

By Jamie Finch-Penninger