The finale of the fifth annual Dubai Tour ended much like the five-stage UCI 2.HC Asia Tour road race started four days earlier with a bit of fireworks from young Mitchelton-BikeExchange — the Chinese-registered Continental development team from Aussie WorldTour squad Mitchelton-Scott.
Like the opening stage where Jacob Hennessy (GBR) finished sixth overall, the 21-year-old Brit once again found himself barreling toward the finish, this time with Australian-born, New Zealand resident Robert Stannard paving the way.
The duo took the race by the scruff of the neck in the closing kilometres and bravely held the peloton at bay for nearly 10km before eventually succumbing inside the last three.
“It has almost become our mantra for this week, but we have been treating every day like it is stage one and reiterating to the guys that there is no pressure and we are here to learn,” explained Mitchelton-BikeExchange sports director James Victor. “The whole team has been fantastic, from the experienced staff working with the new staff and an international squad of riders getting over communication barriers and racing against the professionals.”
According to Mitchelton-Scott team director Shayne Bannan, the pair are just two of the ingredients that make the devo team — as well as the entire — Mitchelton cycling programme so special in 2018.
“It’s been a fantastic start for us,” Bannan said at the Dubai Tour start last week regarding Mitchelton-Scott riders Daryl Impey (RSA) and Esteban Chaves (COL) winning the Tour Down Under and Herald SunTour respectively, along with Caleb Ewan’s (AUS) stage win at TDU and Amanda Spratt (AUS) winning the Women’s race in Adelaide as well.
“We are really delighted across the board, so with this team here, the continental team, it’s a partnership with the Chinese Cycling Association to assist the development of Chinese riders, so it’s quite of an exciting project.
“Then we combine that with the likes of Jacob Hennessy and Rob Stannard,” he continued. “So, we are really looking forward to watching this group develop.”
Stannard made headlines a day before the race, which was eventually won by two-time stage winner Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors), when team officials announced the 19-year-old would join Mitchelton-Scott following this season.
“Rob joins the big boys next year in 2019, so he is pretty excited about that,” said Bannan. “But he’s also pretty excited about this year, as well and interacting with the Chinese riders. It’s another world with the language and different culture, so it’s not just about performances on the bike, it’s about the interaction with the group and interaction with another culture — it’s quite exciting.”
Stannard claims the team has already reaped immediate benefits from racing Dubai. “We couldn’t have asked for much more team effort,” he said. “Never really raced at this level before. It’s been a bit of a learning curve with slightly different sprint finishes. We didn’t get results but learned a lot on those days. The main goal coming into Dubai was to gain experience and we’ve done just that.
“I’m looking forward to what’s next.”
For the 2017 Australian Under-23 individual time trial runner-up, the post-season call to WorldTour is a welcome next step that he hopes may come sooner rather than later.
“It’s really exciting for next year that I’ve got the opportunity to race with [Mitchelton-Scott] and I’m really looking forward to it,” Stannard said. “It’s an amazing team to be on and they’ve really shown they can develop riders into amazing WorldTour cyclists like Caleb Ewan for example — he’s absolutely amazing.
“I’m looking to be put into more of a leadership role this year with Mitchelton-BikeExchange,” continued the future Classics hopeful, who finished 20th at U23 Liége-Bastogne-Liége last year. “But I’m also hoping I get a few starts with the Mitchelton-Scott team toward the end of the year as a stagiaire which would be nice.”