George Bennett has finished 8th in the Santos Tour Down Under.  His 9th place finish in Paracombe led to a career high finish on GC as Richie Porte claimed his second Tour Down Under title.

This year’s Santos Tour Down Under will go down as the race that provided a bit of versatility in terms of Kiwi success.  Shane Archbold will go away with the satisfaction of having led out teammate Sam Bennett to a first ochre jersey and stage win on the opening day in Tanunda.  The sprints this year have been far from clear cut, with no one dominant figure wiping the floor with the finales.  Bennett ended the Tour Down Under with one sprint win to his name, Caleb Ewan of Lotto Soudal wowed his home crowd with two, while Italian Giacomo Nizzolo of NTT Pro Cycling also claimed one stage win.

Despite having taken his best overall position in the Santos Tour Down Under in seven finishes, Bennett was disappointed not to have been able to give more on the final climb of Willunga Hill.  Richie Porte was at his customary best on the climb, surging away from the other GC contenders to wrestle the ochre jersey from Daryl Impey of Mitchelton-SCOTT on the final day.  It had been dubbed as a battle between Trek-Segafredo and Mitchelton-SCOTT and in the end it was Trek-Segafredo who came out victorious.

While Porte gained 20 seconds on Mitchelton-SCOTT’s Simon Yates and 26 seconds on the group containing ochre jersey Daryl Impey and George Bennett, the stage ended up bidding farewell to one element of Porte’s palmares; that of the dominant force of Willunga Hill.  

George Bennett (foreground) leads ochre jersey Daryl Impey up Willunga Hill, photo @cauldphoto

The stage saw the Tasmanian forced to settle for second place behind talented 26 year old British rider Matthew Holmes of Lotto Soudal who is in his debut season at World Tour level, having made the leap from Continental level with Madison Genesis.  The two were inseparable in the last kilometre as they hunted time and the stage win, but in the end as Porte looked one way, Holmes attacked the other and that proved the difference as he sprinted away to the win.

After finishing Bennett reflected on his team’s performance and the final climb to the line.  “The team was really strong.  Not only today but actually the whole week,” Bennett said in a team statement.  “We didn’t come here for eighth place but that’s what we leave with.  Despite the result, it’s been a really enjoyable week with the boys and I’m happy to see how we rode as a team.  I learned a lot today for the future and it’s a good launch pad for the season.”

Overall Richie Porte took the title for Trek-Segafredo, 25 seconds ahead of Diego Ulissi of UAE-Team Emirates and CCC Team’s Simon Geschke.  Rohan Dennis and Dylan van Baarle of Team Ineos finished fourth and fifth respectively ahead of Mitchelton-SCOTT’s Impey and Yates with George Bennett a further 9 seconds back in 8th.  Lucas Hamilton of Mitchelton-SCOTT took 9th ahead of Bahrain-McLaren’s Hermann Pernsteiner.

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