The magnitude of James Whelan’s performance in taking the Tour of Tasmania lead was best embodied by the eagerness of Brad McGee to meet him afterwards.
As sports director of the NSWIS team that had just dominated and won the third stage, McGee already had plenty to smile about.
But in his alternative capacity as technical director of Cycling Australia’s road program, the triple Olympian and two-time world champion couldn’t wait to introduce himself to the tour’s surprise packet.
“Very impressive stuff,” McGee told the 21-year-old Melburnian, who only turned to cycling a year ago after injuries curtailed a promising athletics career.
“This race is a real gauge for riders. Of the last 10 winners, five are now in the World Tour so he’s put himself in the right place … but five are not, so it’s really up to him.”
On the energy-sapping 108.9-kilometre third stage from Ulverstone to Penguin via the beloved Gunns Plains, Whelan joined a break of six riders which also included NSWIS duo Dylan Sunderland and Ryan Cavanagh.
The trio reached an agreement that suited both, allowing Whelan to win sufficient sprint and king of the mountain time bonuses to claim the yellow jersey while also doing enough turns to keep the break alive and eventually allow Cavanagh to seize the stage win.
“It’s a bit surreal to be honest,” said Whelan, a former 800 and 1500m track runner who also claimed KOM, young rider and most aggressive rider honours despite not being part of one of the 15 competing teams.
“I knew I had good legs but, being an individual rider, did not think I would be able to out-ride those with teams.
“But I knew if I rode smart and took a few risks it could pay off.
“I had done my homework last night and knew I could be one second ahead if I got the right points.”
On a day which saw 16 DNFs and five more riders finishing outside the time limit, the break’s lead barely stretched beyond two minutes but lasted from the 15km mark to the finish.
After surviving the delights of Gunns Plains, Cavanagh broke away on the descent into Penguin and soloed to a 16-second win over Nick White (Oliver’s Real Food) and Sunderland.
“We knew it was going to be hectic and it was full gas from the gun,” said the 21-year-old Queenslander.
“I was struggling over the climb but after that I knew I could take the pressure off Dylan by going off the front. It’s a standard tactic when you have two in the break but there was a bit of confusion as noone wanted to commit to chasing me and we pulled it off well.
“Finishing the season with a win is always nice and I was fourth here in 2014 so it’s also nice to win over a course I’ve raced all through my junior career and know really well.”
The road captain for the NSWIS team is Launceston’s Tom Robinson who was understandably delighted with the result.
The tour concludes with a 54km criterium in Devonport on Friday.