The Tour Down Under’s decisive weekend started on Saturday with the double ascent of Willunga Hill. On the last time up this famous climb, the peloton went into pieces and Oscar Onley took the win, setting the climb’s best time in the race’s history. Laurence Pithie tested his legs (32nd) in this puncher-climber effort, and another summit finish will put an end to the race on Sunday on Mount Lofty.

After four first days rather made for the fast men, the Tour Down Under finally offered a course that suited punchers and climbers this Saturday. The peloton headed towards the iconic climb of Willunga Hill (3.4 km at 7.3%), which had to be covered twice in the last thirty kilometres. Before that, the scenario proved quite straightforward over the first flat hundred kilometres. Johan Jacobs (Movistar), Samuele Battistella (Astana), Casper Pedersen (Soudal-Quick Step) and Liam Walsh (Australia) established the day’s breakaway, which the bunch easily controlled. “Pedersen was just 1’10 back on GC, so that forced everyone to pull,” said Jussi Veikkanen. “Their attempt was doomed to failure.” It nevertheless extended to the first ascent of Willunga Hill, where it all came back together, which allowed the polka dot jersey wearer Luke Burns to collect a few additional points. “We still expected a more aggressive race, because there was a tailwind on the climb,” added Jussi. “We thought the first time up the climb could be very fast, but in the end, the peloton was still quite big, and all our riders made it over. The race only opened up on the second ascent eventually.”

“Clément is improving day after day”, Jussi Veikkanen

Most of the riders were therefore quite fresh before tackling the day’s final obstacle, and the Groupama-FDJ had a clear plan. “We said at the briefing that our two New Zealand riders had to test themselves, against the others, on the climb and in anticipation for next week,” explained Jussi. The others were there to support them and position them well. First, Clément did a great job, and he’s improving day after day. He worked really well at the front of the pack to keep our guys in position. This is what was planned.” Still wearing the white jersey by proxy, Laurence Pithie was able to start the final climb in the first ten positions, unlike his compatriot. “Reuben wasn’t having a good day, and you pay for it on a climb like this,” Jussi said. As for the last winner of Cholet-Pays de Loire, he remained at the head of the pack for one kilometre, before losing ground when the first attacks occurred two kilometres from the summit. “He climbed the best he could, but it was more to test his legs because we knew in advance that it was more of a climber effort,” Jussi continued. “He did a decent ride, and that’s good for the future. We weren’t expecting miracles, but it’s good that he fought until the end, that he did his best. That’s what we asked him”.

Laurence Pithie eventually reached the summit in 32nd position, 49 seconds behind the winner Oscar Onley. Stephen Williams took control of the overall, which will only be decided tomorrow on the final stage of the Tour Down Under. “There will be another fight,” said Jussi. “We know the final circuit, even if there is a small change compared to last year. It will not be easy, nor simple to control. It can also open up opportunities. We must stay focused and do our best to be involved in the race until the last stage. We must exist until the last day.”

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