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‘It’s a good start’ – WorldTour rookie Holmes takes Porte’s Willunga crown

Matt Holmes won atop Willunga Hill having doubted his ability to match up in the WorldTour just 24 hours earlier.

“It’s a good start.” Matt Holmes (Lotto-Soudal) sounded underwhelmed after winning atop Willunga Hill, but it was some achievement.

Opening your WorldTour account in your first top-tier appearance is no mean feat. To do so by beating Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) on Willunga Hill and break the Aussie’s six-year winning streak is something all the more special.

Holmes defied the odds to survive from the breakaway and outkick Porte in the final 150 meters to win the final stage of Santos Tour Down Under, Sunday. The Australian race was the Brit’s first WorldTour start having transferred to Lotto-Soudal from now-shuttered UK Continental team Madison-Genesis in the off-season.

The six-day race has been some learning curve for the 26-year-old. In the first GC shake-up on the climb to Paracombe, Thursday, Holmes was left disappointed with his 31st place.

“I’ve been trying my hardest to ride well in the GC all week, but I couldn’t handle the speed and danger in the bunch so I didn’t do well in the first few days,” he said.

“Even last night I was saying to my parents that this job is maybe even not for me. Today is a bit of a turnaround.”

Holmes had been doubting his WorldTour career just 24 hours before winning on Willunga. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

It all came together nicely for Holmes on Sunday. As GC rivals Porte and Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) kept tabs on each other in the peloton, Holmes and his Lotto-Soudal teammate Jon Dibben got themselves into the 25-man breakaway. Dibben had raced with Holmes as part of the Madison-Genesis team in 2019, and so the British pair knew how to work together in the break.

“As a team we had no real plan for this stage,” said Holmes. “Team Director Herman Frison gave us all a free role, so, I went in the breakaway. Also Jon Dibben was in the break and he did a perfect team job. I sat on, and he didn’t miss one turn all day. I did absolutely the minimum – I probably did the least of everyone all race.”

The break fractured and fell into the chasing peloton in the final 10km of the stage, but Holmes and a handful of others survived going into the lower slopes of Willunga. The peloton hit the climb not long behind them, and Porte kicked with his trademark Willunga-winning move, powering away from his GC rivals and past the stragglers from the break. All except for Holmes, who doggedly hung on to the charging Australian.

“[When] Richie came I did not panic,” he said. “All I thought was ‘It’s great, he’s not gonna slow down and he’s just gonna take me to the finish,’ as he was obviously riding his own race for the GC. All I had to do was beat him and that was quite simple.”

The result comes as a huge confidence-boost for Holmes, who is scheduled to ride more seven-day races and possibly also the Giro or Vuelta in 2020.

“In team meetings, understandably they give me the easy job and tell me to ride on the front and do what I can,” he said. “But now they’ll have more faith in me and I won’t feel bad for saying ‘ride for me today,’ so it’s a good start.”

‘Good’ is some understatement.