Three days after the Jayco-Herald Sun Tour, we speak to the race director Scott McGrory to get his take on a dramatic finale for Australia’s ‘Summer of Cycling’…
Scott McGrory has been in the media game quite a while. Before that he was a pro cyclist, an Olympic gold medallist on the track. He’s always been a bloke who likes to talk. Get him started on a topic he enjoys, and he can speak for hours.
His latest job title is ‘race director’. At the helm of Australia’s oldest stage race, he helped GTR Events – the company behind the Jayco-Herald Sun Tour (and a host of other races around the nation) – devise a route that created great racing, considerable tension and an outcome that rewarded an aggressive, attacking team.
After a few days to reflect on the outcome, RIDE Media got the lowdown on the six-stage race that started on Phillip Island, concluded in Melbourne and visited a range of regional centres to showcase some good cycling for a range of communities.
Below is the transcript of what McGrory had to say about the race won by Dylan van Baarle of Team Sky on Sunday…
Stage one was a circuit race on Phillip Island.
Photo: Con Chronis
An interesting itinerary…
“Typically, for the last couple of years, the race has started with a time trial right in the centre of Melbourne. This year we changed that and had five full stages – stage one, though, was on the Moto GP circuit at Phillip Island (won by Dan McLay of EF Education First Pro Cycling)…
“Obviously, it’s a spectacular place to race – with views of Bass Straight – and, of course, that track itself is world famous and I think the riders really did appreciate having some pristine conditions to race on. That kicked things off and then we went into the traditional point-to-point style of racing.
“We were really happy with the course we designed that created racing that was really spectacular and interesting.
“Some of the towns that we went to don’t stand out as famous cycling places; the second stage was Wonthaggi to Churchill. Most people ask, ‘Well, where’s Churchill?’ Now all of the riders know because the last 40km of that stage were some of the most spectacular that I’ve seen at a Jayco-Herald Sun Tour.
Richie Porte, a cake and the national champion, Michael Freiberg.
Photo: Con Chronis
“The next day was from Sale to Warragul, as we came back towards Melbourne… and we put them down some narrow roads, the second half of the course was really lumpy, very fast and technical. We saw the two Sky riders, Owain Doull and Luke Rowe, attack the breakaway group and come in for a one-two for Sky. It was a really spectacular day of racing.
“Those two stages through Gippsland, I think the riders really appreciated the courses even though they all said they were very hard. And that’s when we talk about the power data that was coming out.
“Christian Knees, one of the riders from Team Sky, said to me that while the power that he was putting out through the Tour Down Under, on average, might have been slightly higher because of the average speed, he said the peak power that he was doing at the Herald Sun Tour was more than what he was doing at the Tour Down Under.
“It just meant that they really had to go hard to establish the breaks that they were in.
“And the course that we had meant it really was a course that begged for an aggressive race. It meant there were lots of attacks and a lot of animation.
Michael Woods, first in stage two… and into the leader’s jersey.
Photo: Con Chronis
“Kenny Elissonde mentioned that he had a PB for two-hour data, and that involves a lot of time for him spent on the front, and on a really grippy road.
“It’s interesting to see these stats from a race that’s seen as the third in the chain, compared with the Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race… but the riders themselves really enjoyed it and the data really backs up the claim that it was great racing.
“As a race director I have to look back and say, it was really exciting – and I have to be happy with the results.
“The riders all said that they loved the courses, including the last day: which was raced at a 47km/h average speed around the Botanic Gardens – a circuit that has a hill in it… and a bunch of speed bumps which, of course, we’d have preferred not to have had. But it all added up to really spectacular racing and it meant that it was unpredictable.
“Apart from the first stage, when I said Dan McLay would perhaps be the best sprinter on paper – and he went on to win – every other day was unpredictable, including the climbing stage of Arthur’s Seat, which did turn the overall classification on its head.
“That’s what you want in sport, you want unpredictability.”
Team Sky put three guys in what ultimately became the race-winning break of stage four.
Photo: Jean-Pierre Ronco
Impressed with third and fifth on GC
In terms of raising discussion, the Jayco-Herald Sun Tour did a great job because, for example, we saw Michael Woods go on the attack with Richie Porte. On day one of the race, the Tasmanian celebrated his 34th birthday and, alas, also made it pretty clear that he was suffering a cold.
For Richie to finish second overall, and win a stage, at the Tour Down Under and then go to another international stage race while suffering with illness and then come fifth overall is pretty impressive. And he was equal time with fourth place on GC…
RIDE Media put a post Instagram and asked, ‘Any comment?’ The intention was to encourage a bit of praise because, for a guy who has a season built around being in good form for July, he is flying in the early season (yet again).
Richie took a little bit of exception to the post; he thought RIDE Media was having a go at him, as though he should have won the title. That certainly wasn’t the intention…
How did the race director see it from the lead car?
“Once we got the start list set,” said McGrory, “I thought, ‘Okay, this looks like it’s going to be a Michael Woods vs Richie Porte battle, on Arthur’s Seat, on the fourth – and final – ascent.’
“Throw in maybe Kenny Elissonde, maybe one of the guys from Mitchelton-Scott and we believed we’d probably have a good stage on our hands. Damian Howson as a former winner, wasn’t on good form but we knew – and respect – that he’d only just come back from Europe, so we weren’t expecting him to be flying. We thought maybe Lucas Hamilton could step up, the young climber from Ararat; and he looked pretty good on the stage to Churchill… but it didn’t quite play out that way.
“The tactics of Team Sky, of really just throwing the smackdown on the roads to Arthur’s Seat – to create a breakaway with threeriders from Sky – that’s a textbook way to win a title.
“They threw everything at the race and didn’t just sit back and wait for it to happen on the final climb. That was great!”
Nick Schultz earned his maiden victory as a pro at Arthur’s Seat in stage four.
Photo: Jean-Pierre Ronco
Influence of Sky’s tactician, Brett Lancaster
We can thank Brett Lancaster for the nature of Sky’s attacking antics. He’s a rider directeur sportif– a former rider – who seems to escape any headlines, but he deserves a little tap on the shoulder to be told, ‘Congratulations…’
“Absolutely,” agreed McGrory. “And to back you up: before the first stage at Phillip Island, I said to Brett, ‘Look, it’s a beautiful stage here in a great location.’
“He said, ‘I want it to be really windy! If it’s like that, we can blow the race to pieces – I want our guys to really smashit. They’ve tried to animate the first two of the races this season, in TDU and Cadel’s, and we were unable to really do it…’
“So, he wanted to really do it at the Jayco-Herald Sun Tour and I cautioned him and said, ‘Well, this is not a WorldTour event. We’ve got a bunch of Continental teams as well; if you guys blow the race to pieces, I’ve got a problem with the police because we’ll have groups too far out the back…’ So, I joked with him about that.
“It wasn’t going to be a problem with the police on the Moto GP circuit; the wind didn’t pick up, they still went super-hard on the last lap with Sky doing the lead-out for Kristoffer Halverson, who finished second on the stage. But even in the one time they did light it up, the gaps opened in the peloton.
“Some of the guys from the national team who I spoke with afterwards said, ‘Wow, when they light it up, it’s a swift reminder of just how great that step is to the WorldTour – because those guys have enormous power!’
“And Sky was keen, every day, to do the same thing. They wanted to get in the mix in stage three which had some narrow roads which we included on the itinerary purely because we thought it would animate the early part of the race. That’s where the break went – the two Sky riders went, they jumped across and were the last two to get to the breakaway… and they finished first and second on the stage.
“They wanted to animate the race, and they did.
“It was the same for the big mountain stage of Arthur’s Seat; three guys from Sky getting in the break.
“Christian Knees said to me he was the only Sky rider there when the break first got established then he looked behind and saw Luke Rowe with Dylan van Baarle coming across. He said he just took a big, deep breath and thought, ‘Okay, here we go – it’s on!’ And then it was just a mad dash.
“That set Dylan van Baarle up to take the overall victory.
“Nick Schultz from Mitchelton-Scott got the stage win but, every day, Team Sky were animated. Every day when I spoke with Brett Lancaster, he said he wanted his riders to throw everything at the race to try and come away with it… and they won the overall title (van Baarle), they won the young riders’ jersey (Pavel Sivakov), they won the King of the Mountains classification (Knees) and they won the team classification.
“It was an extraordinary performance and it just shows how a motivated team can really step up and do some damage. That’s what Brett Lancaster orchestrated. And they really enjoyed their time on the race.”
Dylan van Baarle took the yellow jersey after an audacious attack on the Saturday.
Photo: Jean-Pierre Ronco
Woods: missing assistance from an injured Morton
Some may say that Michael Woods lost the title rather than defending his overall lead but really it was Sky’s attacking approach day after day that made the race. Special mention should go to Lachlan Morton because his absence on the day when Woods really needed a climber for support was obvious.
Morton crashed in stage three and that dramatically hindered the chances of the Canadian.
“It certainly did,” says McGrory. “Those teams are coming out (to Australia) with the one squad to do all three races so it’s challenging…
“Teams like Sky, EF and Trek-Segafredo had several flat-landers, they had rouleurs, they had sprinters… so it was always going to be a challenge for any of them, including Woods’ EF crew, to control the race from the front in the leader’s jersey. And ‘Lachie’ Morton crashing the day before, getting stitches in his knee, was probably the chink in the armour that really did get them undone.
“Once the breakaway went on the Arthur’s Seat stage, with three Team Sky riders in it, the rest of the EF team had to drive the pace as hard as they could, so the gap didn’t blow out. But then they had nothing left for the climb – and that’s exactly when Morton would have stepped in to help Woods.
“Everything could have been different had Lachie not crashed in stage three.
“It’s unfortunate for them, but that’s racing.
“If you get the leader’s jersey early in these races, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the cattle in the team to hold onto it right through to the end.
“Michael showed that he was probably the best climber on form in the race. On the stage to Churchill he put Richie into a little bit of trouble, the two guys came together on the descent and then Michael won the stage.
“Unfortunately, with all the hard racing over the next two days, it all came undone for EF. And, likewise, for Trek-Segafredo.
“With Richie coming in a little bit under the weather, it does show what incredible talent he has. Even when he’s sick, he could still be in the mix and still have the whole race looking at him expecting him to go for it… when he clearly was a couple of percent off his best because of illness.
“Again, Trek-Segafredo was a team that didn’t have the climbing talent for this stint in Australia to really gather around Richie in numbers for the second, third and final time up Arthur’s Seat.
“Both those riders – Woods and Porte – got isolated on the closing two laps of the circuit. You had two really strong riders at the front in Schultz and van Baarle. And the gap opened up.
“You rarely see a long-range attack come away with the overall victory. You see it in the quest for stage victories more often, because the riders in the break may be down on GC… or whatever. But it is rare for a long-range attack to hold on and actually take the overall victory. And that’s what we saw, and I was excited by that.”
Good racing; fine showcase…
Ultimately, it’s a great outcome for cycling because people want to see someone roll the dice, race hard, and take a gamble. We don’t want to see that small breakaway – one that has been part of the tradition of Tours Down Under in the past, with just one or two guys up the road… and the inevitable capture.
“It was a mixed bag of a race that had everything and it was unpredictable,” concludes McGrory. “I know I’m proud of our team in terms of what we put together for the sport. And I’m proud of the riders for putting on such a good show. They did enjoy it, they did embrace it, and they did race it hard.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold