With his arms raised in celebration, Capel Dewi’s Stevie Williams showed nothing but class in the way he won the final stage of the Santos Tour Down Under atop Mount Lofty, securing the General Classification win and the biggest victory of his career.
Coming into stage six on equal time with Oscar Onley (Team dsm-firmenich PostNL) after a showdown on Willunga Hill, it was always going to come down to the wire on Mount Lofty. Brilliant teamwork all day put Israel – Premier Tech’s Williams in the perfect position on the third and final ascent and from there, it was a show of pure class from the Welshman, who surged ahead in the final 250 meters to take the victory in the leader’s ochre jersey and secure the overall win.
“What a stage,” exclaimed the 27-year-old. “That finish is perfect for me. It’s so punchy. I’ve got a knack of being able to hold on and hold on and luckily I was able to get back on the wheel [in the finale], read the situation and capitalize by opening up at 250 meters to go.
“Everyone’s legs were dead by then so I thought if I got the jump, I would be in with a good chance. I would always back myself coming into it in a small, select group like that and to do it in this jersey as well, makes it even more special.”
Williams was quick to dedicate the win to his teammates, acknowledging the brilliant way the team has raced all week.
“Honestly, the support the team has given me over the past two days has been incredible.
“I can’t thank them enough. The staff, soigneurs, mechanics, the boys, the riders, everyone. All week the boys have been amazing. They have done a great job and this is definitely a team victory.
“With the caliber of riders we had here, we were backing ourselves and we weren’t here to make up numbers, that’s for sure. I’m really proud to come down here and start the season like this on the front foot, and head back to Europe and continue on.
“Cycling is funny because wins don’t come around very often. So once you get a victory like this, you have to make sure you enjoy it and take it in. For me to win a WorldTour GC at this point in the season is really important for my development.”
A breakaway of seven riders, none of whom posed a threat to the General Classification, up the road was the perfect scenario for the team given multiple riders were within seconds of the race lead.
Williams’ teammates controlled the breakaway’s advantage for much of the day but other teams were forced to chase to have any chance of challenging Williams for the win and the crucial bonus seconds at the finish line.
In the end, Williams would go on to win the race by nine seconds over Jhonatan Narvaez (Ineos Grenadiers) and 11 seconds ahead of Isaac Del Toro (UAE Team Emirates) to secure Israel – Premier Tech’s first ever WorldTour stage race win.
Sports director Sam Bewley praised Williams and the entire team for their performance all week, coming in as the underdogs but emerging as the strongest team in the race.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Bewley. “When we came to this race, we knew we had a good chance of doing really well here.
“Our objective was top-five overall and a stage win, so they have eclipsed that well and truly.
“We believed we could win it but we had some trouble throughout the week with Corbin getting sick but we pivoted really well to focus on Stevie.
“Strategically, the team was good but ultimately, the guys were just unreal. Every day, they believed in Stevie, they believed in Corbin as well, and when you are like that, you are a hard team to beat.”
Bewley acknowledged the significance of the team’s performance Down Under and the way it sets the team up for the rest of the season.
“It’s huge. The best thing about it is that Tour Down Under is a bloody hard race to win.
“It’s a WorldTour stage race and it’s in January. It’s the first stage race of the season which means this group of guys will get on a plane back to Europe and take some real motivation into the rest of the season.
“When you start a season like this, once the wheels get rolling they are hard to stop.
“It is a perfect way to start the year for the team to win a WorldTour stage race. It is a big box ticked and I’m sure it is going to be the first of many.”