Australian nous, British talent make potent Tour mix

Roger Vaughan |

Scottish rider Oscar Onley crosses the line to win stage five of the Tour Down Under.
Scottish rider Oscar Onley crosses the line to win stage five of the Tour Down Under.

Australian nous has combined with British talent to potentially decide the Tour Down Under.

Scottish cycling young gun Oscar Onley (dsm-firmenich) had the biggest win of his emerging career on Saturday when he beat stars including Julian Alaphilippe and Simon Yates on the iconic Willunga Hill climb, south of Adelaide.

Immediately behind 21-year-old Onley at the finish was Welsh rider Stevie Williams – nicknamed Stevie Wonder by his Israel-Premier Tech team director Daryl Impey.

Action from stage five of the 2024 Tour Down Under.
The Tour Down Under riders tackle the iconic 3km Willunga Hill climb on Saturday. (HANDOUT/SANTOS TOUR DOWN UNDER)

The GB one-two meant the pair are tied for the overall lead at the Santos Tour, with 27-year-old Williams in front on a countback because of his third place in stage two.

It is not decisive – the duo only lead by five seconds on general classification and the top seven riders are within 13 seconds.

But in a race often decided by only one or two seconds, Williams and Onley have made a big statement ahead of Sunday’s title-deciding final stage, which features another summit finish at Mt Lofty in the Adelaide Hills.

Local knowledge is proving potent help for the two Tour debutants.

Onley’s team director is Australian Luke Roberts, a 2004 Olympic gold medallist on the track, and the young Scot has crucial support from their road captain Chris ‘Hurricane’ Hamilton – also racing in his home country.

Williams’ road captain is Simon Clarke, one of the sport’s most respected domestiques, while South African Impey is a two-time Tour winner.

The two British aces heaped praise on their local connections.

“Especially today, he was looking after me,” Onley said of Hamilton, who was the first to congratulate him at the Willunga finish.

“After the (first) climb, he was really keeping me calm and making sure I invested in the right points.”

The peloton skirts the beach during stage five of the Tour Down Under.
Stage five of the Tour ran 129.3km from suburban Christies Beach to Willunga Hill. (HANDOUT/SANTOS TOUR DOWN UNDER)

Williams said Clarke was crucial in the at-times chaotic 129.3km stage from suburban Christies Beach.

“He just has this knack of being in the right place at the right time,” Williams said.

“To have him in your corner, and all the other boys, was just so great today.”

After the opening four sprint stages, Onley and Williams were touted as potential contenders for the weekend’s summit finishes.

Roberts said Onley, in training, had set one of the fastest times on the 3km Willunga climb, made famous by Australian star Richie Porte.

“The stage tomorrow, the finish, actually suits him better than Willunga,” Roberts said.

“That’s one we also want to target and hopefully that can net us the overall.”

As expected, the Willunga summit finish sparked a reshuffle of the overall standings.

Previous race leader, young Mexican Isaac del Toro (UAE Team Emirates), finished eighth and is fourth overall at five seconds.

Yates is the main hope for Australian team Jayco AlUla, who have endured a frustrating and barren home tour.

He attacked on the last of two climbs up Willunga, but was reeled in quickly and is seventh overall at 13 seconds.

Alaphilippe (Soudal Quick-Step) likewise unsuccessfully attacked the selected front group on the climb to the finish and is fifth, also at 13 seconds.

In-form Ecuadorian Jhonatan Narvaez (Ineos Grenadiers) is third at five seconds, while Damien Howson (national team) is the top Australian at ninth, 22 seconds behind Williams and Onley.

AAP