Daryl Impey of South Africa, Michael Hepburn of Australia, Luca Hamilton of Australia and Mitchelton-Scott race in stage 6 of the 22nd Santos Tour Down Under in Willunga Hill, Australia, January 26 2020. Picture: PETER MUNDY/GETTY IMAGES
Daryl Impey of South Africa, Michael Hepburn of Australia, Luca Hamilton of Australia and Mitchelton-Scott race in stage 6 of the 22nd Santos Tour Down Under in Willunga Hill, Australia, January 26 2020. Picture: PETER MUNDY/GETTY IMAGES

Daryl Impey’s hopes and dreams of winning a third consecutive Santos Tour Down Under perished on the slopes of the Willunga Hill on the final stage of the race in Adelaide, South Australia, on Sunday. 

The SA-born champion, who had gone into the final day wearing the leader’s ochre jersey, admitted he was “spent” after the 151.5km stage from McLaren Vale to the race’s iconic finish on Willunga Hill. He finished 23 seconds behind Australian Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), who took second place on the day and the overall victory for the second time in his career. The stage was won by Briton Matt Holmes (Lotto-Soudal), who sprinted away to beat Porte by 3 sec.

“I came over the line spent. I knew I was out of it there once I got dropped and I just kept fighting to the line, trying to limit the damage and trying to save the podium,” said Impey, who took sixth overall, having gone into the final day with a 2 sec gap over Porte.

“It wasn’t a great day today. I struggled a bit there on the bottom slopes, perhaps paying for quite a busy week but, we gave it our all. I’m still happy with the performance, obviously disappointed with today but that’s how it goes.

“I don’t want to pull excuses, I think Richie proved he is the best climber here. Going into today’s stage I would have actually preferred a 20 sec buffer, like we usually come with, but it was a lot closer this year. [Richie] rode a great race. 

“I had to get time and to put myself in a position to possibly win. Last year I finished on his wheel so I thought it was a possibility this year, but the body just didn’t respond today like last year. Tactically we rode a good race today. We just put guys on the front at the end to close the gap so we didn’t lose the race but it wasn’t up to us to chase the break, we wanted them to take the seconds away.”

Impey and his Mitchelton-Scott team had tried to pick up bonus seconds in the intermediate sprints during the six-stage race, the first of 2020 on the UCI World Tour calendar.

Impey took second and third place on the second and third stages respectively, but knew he needed a bigger gap over Porte before Willunga, the Australian having won the stage for six years in a row.

It was a strong week for SA cycling at the Tour Down Under with Giacomo Nizzolo, the Italian sprinter on the SA NTT Pro Cycling team winning the fifth stage on Saturday. After a tough 2019, where wins were hard to come by, Nizzolo held off Simone Consonni (Cofidis) and Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quickstep).

It was a superb team effort lead-out by NTT, who changed their name and sponsor from Dimension Data at the end of 2019, who pulled Nizzolo back into contention after he had fallen off on a sharp climb with 20km to go. “I can’t thank the team enough because today they did a great, great job,” said Nizzolo. “It was the plan, if I was a bit dropped, they had to wait for me on the climb and they did it perfectly.

“Then they also did a perfect lead-out. I was perfectly placed in the final and then I just had to put everything I had left into the pedals and it worked out in the end. I am so happy, this is a good feeling to get the win in our new team colours.”