When I woke sunday morning for the final stage of the 2014 suntour I was a little edgy to say the least. Perhaps the biggest day of my cycling career was ahead of me where I had the opportunity to fight for my first tour win as a professional. Just 8 seconds stood between my good mate Simon Clarke and the race lead with the emerging super talent in australian cycling jack Haig a mere 2 seconds adrift of me. All was set for mouth watering showdown on the queens stage of the oldest stage race in the country where we would fittingly finish atop the mythical climb of arther's seat on melbourne's mornington peninsula. The three of us all believed we had the firepower to win and also knew that we all stood a good chance of being beaten. It was a special feeling knowing I had the chance to finally be apart of such and enthralling battle where at days end there was only going to be one winner. I simply wanted the flag to drop and get stuck into it. I was as excited as the spectators to know what the final outcome was going to be. Alas just 30minutes before the start the stage was cancelled due to safety concerns surrounding potential bush fires in the area. At first when Nathan Hass told me the news I thought he was joking but quickly leant it was a fact and that was that. I am pleased the organisers made a definitive decision and stood behind it as it was without a doubt the only decision to make. At the end of the day it is just a bike race and to threaten the safety of hundreds, if not thousands of people when you consider the spectators, the simple and only decision was to cancell the final stage of the race.
So instead of doing battle atop arthers seat it merely became the site for the presentations. Sure it was an anti climax to such an exciting day of racing but I did not dwell for one second on what might have been and simply set about enjoying the podium ceremony with all the guys. I was awarded the most aggressive rider for the 2014 race which was a huge honour for me as I hold a special spot for this prize category. I love nothing more than going on the attack in bike races so to be recognised for this with the award always spurs me on to do it again and again and also is nice to feel some appreciation from the race for my contribution to spicing things up a bit! The other great thing about the award was it was sponsored by Subaru whom I am an ambassador for so was nice to hopefully show them why they made a good choice investing a little in me! Following individual trip to the stage I had the honour of getting up there for the GC podium with jack and simon. The spraying of the champagne is always a ritual for such a presentation and my good mate simon took great delight in blasting the bottle of bubble square into my eyes leaving me blinded for a few minutes, he well and truly got me a beauty there much to his amusement! There were definitely no sour grapes standing up on stage, I was very happy for simon and know he was happy for me. Knowing that your rivals respect you as much as you respect them is something I value very highly and this is definitely something simon, jack and I all shared for each other. In reality if you had told me before the start of stage 1 that I would finish 2nd on GC I would have taken it and run as quickly home as I could, I was very satisfied with my and my Cannondale boys work for the week.
I was really honoured to be on this podium for reasons other than my personal achievement. The 3 riders I feel represent the beauty of the development and evolution of the sport in the country of the past few years. Atop the podium stood the local hero in simon clarke. 7th in the world championships last year in italy and developing rapidly and methodically from a right hand helper to the likes of simon gerrans and into a leader in his own right. When I missed a crucial split of stage 1 that greenedge created and my team mates so brilliantly shut down simon was furious with me and I was furious with myself. Simon knew had I been in it we probably would have had the chemistry to make it stick and I knew that I had put my boys in an incredibly difficult position to chase it down which I never want to do to my team mates. Simon said to me that night at dinner "don't you dare miss the next opportunity" and I said to myself I would not let my team mates down again. I knew and simon had a good inclination that the two of us would be apart of a decisive move in the race, as history will now show, that's exactly what happened on the stage from ballarat to bendigo. Simon definitely turned up to the race in the best condition of all in the race and was always going to be a factor. In the end I am pleased that the strongest rider won the race. Not only was he the strongest but also the smartest so there was no more deserving winner. Simon has progressed perfectly during his career and at 27 now looks set to really rise to being one of the best in the business. Simon's arrival at this level has come from nothing less than hard hard methodical yakka. By his own admission simon has to work extremely hard to be at his best and is a great example for work ethic and sacrifices required to make it to the top of the sport. Also what a great story for a local victorian lad to win the states most prestigious bike race on roads he rides everyday for training. Its a fairytale that makes young victorian kids riding around on those same roads believe that one day they can become professional cyclists and dream of winning the herald suntour. Without a doubt he is the perfect role model and I have to give a Big big pat on the back to my mate simon.
Jack haig is the emerging talent in the sport in this country. He is being likened in so many ways to cadel and rightly so. Its important that people remember there will never be another Cadel and that Jack is Jack but certainly I saw many reasons why australia should be pretty excited about this young fella in the future. At just 20 years of age his made me look like the grandpa on the podium and rightly so, 10 years his senior is huge so I am happy I atleast kept him one position behind me. In all reality jack was perhaps the best climber for the final stage and could very easily have finished on the top step, again we will never know but regardless 3rd was still a huge result for jack and also one he went out and made happen for himself. I was so impressed with the way he committed to the breakaway surviving with simon and I on the road to bendigo. He saw an opportunity to go tow to toe with two guys I am pretty sure he respects and was not in anyway intimidated or scared to fail and that was rewarded. He simply rode himself into the ground that day until he could do no more than simply try and survive in our slipstream for the final km's into the finish. He really emptied his young tank which simon and I appreciated and respected and consequently had no problems with giving him what could have been seen as a free ride to the finish that day. That's far from the reality of the situation and we were very happy he managed to stayed hitched onto us all the way to the finish line in his home town of bendigo, it was a great story. Jack is the whole package, he showed us in that stage he can climb with the best, is perhaps one of the better decenders in the peleton, and is not afraid to commit on the flat windy roads that many would believe don't favour his tall skinny frame. He definitely has it all there and its exciting to see what he will do in the years to come. By now I am pretty sure I've made it pretty clear that it was real honour for me to be sandwiched between these to gentlemen on the final podium of the 2014 herald suntour.
As for myself, well I feel like deserved to be there aswell. After missing the move on stage one I owed it to my team mates and all the team staff whom have put so much work into me to be in a position to fight for the title. I need to make it very clear that had Mattias, Junior matty mohoric, and george not committed on stage one I would never have even had the chance to fight for the title, simple as that!! They literally saved the tour for me chasing greenedge down on the wind swept plains running into ballarat so that's perhaps the most significant moment in the entire bike race for me. Boivin the next day laid all the foundations in the initial breakaway by driving the pace all day long to ensure we had enough of a gap at the bottom of the decisive climb so I could lay the knockout blow with simon and jack. Its the first time I really believed in myself that I could make something happen that day and it was really special feeling to have boivin who let's not forget could have won that stage aswell, sacrifice all his energy for me to have a crack at success so a huge thanks to him. It was really a special feeling to be able to look all the boys in the eye and know that I had shown them why they did all this work for me. They knew I appreciated them and I knew that they appreciated what I had done with the chance they gave me. That's one of those special moments that you get to enjoy as apart of a team sport. I definitely felt my teams and also my own contribution warranted me being on that final podium, we as a team earnt that. It was our second race together after TDU and was also fantastic to see how much we had progressed as a unit. When all was said and done with the race the results sheets saw us finish 3rd in the teams classification, 3rd in the KOM jersey with bettiol, 2nd on stage 2, 2nd on GC and also the most combative prize for the tour. Was a huge step forward for our young cannondale pro cycling team here in aus and a step forward that I was extremely proud to be apart of. Those fews days racing around melbourne were days that will definitely go down as some of the most enjoyable and significant in my cycling career.
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