James Whelan doesn’t believe it’s game over as he raced to an incredible overall lead on stage I of the Santos Festival of Cycling at Lobethal.
The stage victory is certain to attract the attention of WorldTour teams that are still on the hunt to fill their rosters with a super talent for 2022.
“I’d like to say a ride like this shows that I should still be in the WorldTour,’’ Whelan after having bike problems not far from the Stirling start.
“I’m lucky that I have this summer of cycling to show my form and talent.
“It’s definitely not game over especially in the heat, I do have a big buffer now and history suggests that I’ll hold the jersey, but we have a lot of work to do.
“There are some fast bike riders here and hopefully at the end of the week we’ll sew up the jersey.”
Incredibly Whelan, 25, lost about five minutes when he was forced to change his bike early in the race before riding solo to the finish.
Whelan amassed a 27-second gap over Bridgelane teammate Matt Dinham.
It also puts Dinham in the running for the GC by the time the race gets to the Willunga Hill finish line on Saturday for the final stage.
Reigning Festival of Cycling champion BikeExchange-Jayco’s Luke Durbridge was fifth, 32 seconds behind Whelan and Luke Plapp, one second behind the West Australian.
Whelan – a UCI WorldTour rider for EF Education-Nippo for four years – finished runner up to Plapp at the recent Australian road nationals.
Plapp was the danger according to the moves of the twitchy peloton, but Whelan threatened to solo to victory having a 50 second lead with just one more loop around Lobethal.
However, when the WorldTour guns needed to up the ante Whelan’s Bridgelane team rocked the favourites and at times the race threatened to explode in the 33C humid heat.
Plapp managed to chase down a two-minute gap from the lead group with about 19km to go before the favourites started positioning their best hopes of winning the stage.
But it was far too late.
It was no laughing matter said Ben Hill from CCS Cycling who earned five points and the KOM jersey to keep for stage 2 which starts at Mount Lofty and ends at Woodside on Friday.
“By the time Whelan went solo there was already a select group with tired legs,’’ Hill said.
“Bridgelane had a lot of numbers there, so if it wasn’t James (Whelan going for a stage win) it would have been one of his teammates.
“If you’re Luke Plapp or Chris Harper (Jumbo-Visma and Villawood in SA) or Luke Durbridge they should have been more attentive to Whelan than the other guys.
“He is the guy with pedigree and on form after the nationals, they should have been following him.”
The race started with a breakaway which was getting edgy just before the first Ziptrak intermediate sprint at Oakbank, 37.2km from the start.
Riding for Villawood, Adelaide-born Tim Roe, an ex-UCI WorldTour rider with BMC Racing, looked set to take it out but he was swamped by Jean-Pierre Van Der Merwe from Bridgelane and two other guns.
Full-time electrician Brendan Johnston earned second after his brilliant third place at the Australian national road championships in Victoria this month.
Brady Gilmore from Cycling Development Foundation was a happy third as the breakaway was about 10 minutes ahead of the scheduled 1.55pm finish at Lobethal.
The Shimano King of the Mountain came up quickly, but the Cudlee Creek category 3 climb was not bothering the early season legs despite Wednesday night’s Trek Night Riders criterium on the hot streets of Adelaide.
Johnston won all the major rewards for the second Ziptrak intermediate sprint at Lobethal before Whelan’s finish to hold onto the jersey for stage two.
WESTPAC RIDE OF THE DAY
ZIPTRAK STAGE 1 STIRLING to LOBETHAL - 114.2km
James Wheelan - Team Bridgelane
SANTOS LEADER’S JERSEY
James Wheelan - Team Bridgelane
ZIPTRAK SPRINT JERSEY
Brendan Johnston – Giant Racing Team
SHIMANO KING OF THE MOUNTAIN JERSEY
Ben Hill - CCS Cycling
CERVELO YOUNG RIDER’S JERSEY
Matt Dinham - Team Bridgelane