RIDE Media caught up with one of Bora-Hansgrohe’s new recruits, Sam Welsford, before the opening stage of the 2024 Tour Down Under. With many predicting a sprint finish, the West Australian was one of the riders to watch on a day the race started and ended in Tanunda.
– Interview and video by Rob Arnold
“It should be a sprint day today,” said Sam Welsford moments before his second race in the Bora-Hansgrohe team colours. Three days before his 28th birthday, Welsford got the season off to a winning start but was mindful of the array of team tactics that would be employed on a hot day in the Barossa.
The 144km stage featured three ascents of Mengler’s Hill but the road to the finish line in Tanunda was flat, straight and lured the sprinters to the fore. Still, the composition of the peloton – thin on sprint specialists – meant that there would be some changes to the expected script.
“I think there’s a possibility that it can quite aggressive on the climb, especially because a lot of teams don’t have sprinters here,” said Welsford, “but we’ll be up there and hopefully having a crack at getting our lead-out dialled for this fast run in.”
Victory in stage one
Bora-Hansgrohe signalled their intentions early by attempting to set Welsford up to claim maximum points at the first intermediate sprint but the team was swamped close to the line early in the stage and Finn Fisher-Black took first place points (and a small time bonus) when he led over the line.
That was one momentary bout of action in a race that would eventually live up to expectations. A bunch sprint was how it ended and Welsford duly delivered: victory in Tanunda and a swap of jerseys for Wednesday’s second stage.
The team colours are replaced by ochre after Welsford claimed his first TDU stage win, taking with it the leader’s jersey after holding off late challenges from Bingham Grimy (Intermarché-Wanty) and the winner on the opening day one year ago, Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain Victorious).
Getting ready for action
Welsford made the switch from Team DSM to Bora-Hansgrohe only a few weeks ago and he seems to be settling in well to the group that, at the TDU of 2024, has Bernie Eisel and Shane Archbold calling the shots from the team car.
On the road, the last man in Welsford’s lead-out train is the tall, strong Dutchman Danny van Poppel and the only Aussie in the line-up of seven for this year’s TDU is feeling confident.
It’s early days for racing in 2024 but Welsford was fine-tuning his form in Perth at the end of last year and a hit-out in the famous ‘Pappas’ bunch ride on Boxing Day. That speed session three weeks ago offered Welsford a hint of how he’s going… and he’s pleased with the kind of speed he’s generating.
“The first race of the season is always going to be nervous to the lead-out is going to be super important.”
Switch to Specialized and SRAM
He has adapted quickly to the change of team culture and also the different equipment to what he’s raced during his first years in the WorldTour peloton.
“I’m now on the [Specialized] SL8 which is a big difference to the Scott Foil I was on last year. This is super light, really stiff as well, and quite a fast bike,” said Welsford when asked for a summary about his new equipment. “I think this bike can do everything.
“We’re on SRAM now so I’m running a bigger ratio on the back, with the 10 cog… and I’m on the Roval wheels now where are special.
“The whole Specialized package is really good. Everything works well together… so, when you get on the bike, it all feels great.”
– By Rob Arnold