He undoubtedly made some fans excited very early this Sunday. On the sixth and final stage of the Tour Down Under, Laurence Pithie came very close to a major performance on the ramps of Mount Lofty. After getting in the mix in the sprints this week, the young New Zealander followed the best GC contenders uphill this time, and even attacked them with just over a kilometre to go. His bold attempt was unfortunately brought back 600 meters from the line, but he still took a superb fifth place and above all made quite an impression. The Groupama-FDJ cycling team concluded the race with four top-10s including three top-5s and heads with ambition towards its last two Australian appointments.

The Tour Down Under was to come to an end on Sunday with the shortest stage of the week, but certainly not the easiest. The riders had to tackle the slopes of the explosive Mount Lofty (1.6 km at 6.5%), to be done three times following a winding circuit and slightly hilly circuit. “The goal was to complete the week in a good way,” said Jussi Veikkanen. “We knew the route, and it was the stage with the highest elevation gain. We wanted to get in the morning break with anyone but Laurence. We didn’t manage to be in front, but there are no regrets because the peloton didn’t leave much room. Once the breakaway was gone, we told Laurence that he had to test himself until the very end, and that he should join in the moves in the final if there were any so as not to have regrets.” At the head of the race, Gil Gelders (Soudal Quick-Step), António Morgado (UAE Emirates), Franck Bonnamour (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale), Simon Geschke (Cofidis), Stefan De Bod (EF Education-EasyPost), Maurice Ballerstedt (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Jacopo Mosca (Lidl-Trek) led the race for a large part of the day, but the peloton came close in the final loop around Stirling. The increasing tension also followed up with a crash seven kilometers from the finish including Enzo Paleni. The young Frenchman was able to finish the race despite some wounds. In the lead, the breakaway was caught with four kilometres to go, entering the foothills of the final climb.

“Today is definitely bittersweet”, Laurence Pithie

In a perfect position, as usual, Laurence Pithie could tackle Mount Lofty in the first five positions a few moments later. The very high tempo first created some damage in the back, but the New Zealander held his place right in the lead. He was then the first rider to jump on the wheel of Isaac Del Toro when the latter made the first attack 1700m from the finish! The Kiwi kept up with the pace, and five hundred metres further, had just four competitors remaining: Del Toro, leader Stephen Williams, Jhonatan Narvaez and Bart Lemmen. “In the last two kilometres, I didn’t think too much,” explained Laurence. “I just knew I had to follow the best and be there. I felt good all day and I knew I could have a good finish in a climb like this. I’ve really improved my level on the climbs over the winter.”Laurence joined a group that went away when it came down to legs, and there were only strong guys up there,” Jussi noted. “Then at 1200 meters, there was a little pause, just before a small flat portion. Laurence being a racer, he wanted to give it a go.” Wishing to take advantage of his “dark horse” status, the young man from Groupama-FDJ made a small gap, but the reaction was not long to come in the back. “He went alone but was caught at 600m by the same group, after passing the last steep ramp,” Jussi said. Laurence Pithie was caught, lost a few meters and couldn’t join in the sprint for the stage victory with the four leading riders.

On the line, and after a noteworthy display, the 21-year-old Kiwi still secured a superb fifth place. Yet, there were regrets for sure. “What can I say? I’m pretty disappointed”, said Laurence. “I made the split-second decision to go when the group of favorites sat up a little bit. In hindsight, maybe I should have waited for the sprint, but you never know… I gave everything out there, and I can be satisfied to come fifth on this type of finish which isn’t really suited to me. I can be happy with my Tour Down Under overall, with some good top-5s, even if today is definitely bittersweet.” “We can always rewrite the race and imagine other scenarios,” added Jussi. “If he doesn’t attack and stays in the wheels, maybe he beats them in the sprint and wins the stage. But would he have held up in the final steep section if he had stayed with them? He was certainly extremely disappointed when he got to the team bus, but I think we should only keep the positive from this day. He must not be disappointed for having tried something. If they had looked at each other for a few more seconds, it would have been a different story. We are disappointed because we would rather win than finish fifth, but we cannot say that he made a mistake. And if you don’t try, you never get anything. It was also a new situation for him. It will be useful to him, it’s a good experience and base for the future.”

“Laurence is a genuine racer”, Jussi Veikkanen

Laurence Pithie therefore completed this 2024 Tour Down Under with his fourth top-10 of the week (and third top-5). A good balance for Groupama-FDJ despite an obvious lack. “Having lost Rudy is the real pity of the week,” concluded Jussi. “He wanted to perform here, and with him, we would have had an even better week. We lack a rider in the final top-10, which he would have been able to accomplish. Laurence finishes twenty-second and that’s not so bad for a sprinter (smiles). Apart from that, we were spoiled by Laurence’s great performances and consistency. He’s a genuine racer, and you don’t find genuine racers everywhere. He has a feel for the race, he knows how to run a tight ship, he knows his opponents, and he never ceases to surprise us. When we see his progress between last year and this year on this same stage, we just think that his limits are unknown, and that’s what’s nice.” However, the Australian stay is not over for the Finnish sports director and his men, who will line up with ambition on the Surf Coast Classic then the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Race next week. “We are hungry for more and very motivated, that’s for sure,” he said.

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