Melbourne (AFP) – Two-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome won Australia’s Herald Sun Tour on Sunday after scoring a solo victory on the fourth and final stage. Teammate Peter Kennaugh finished second in the overall, 29 seconds in arrears.
In his first race after a five-month break, Froome (Team Sky) won the 121.8-kilometer stage four in the Mornington Peninsula in a solo push, 17 seconds ahead of Australian Damien Howson (Orica-GreenEDGE). The move put him ahead of Kennaugh, who had come into the stage leading the overall standings. Kennaugh, an Olympic gold medalist on the track, finished the stage in seventh position, which bumped him to second.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Froome told broadcaster Nine Network after the win. “(I’ve) put in a lot of hard yards this winter, which hasn’t been easy with the new family starting and everything back home,” he added, thanking his family and team.
Froome and New Zealand’s Joe Cooper (Avanti IsoWhey Sport) built a lead during the second of three ascents of the Arthur’s Seat climb. Froome then attacked and dropped his companion with three kilometers to go.
Froome attributed the winning move to his pursuit of King of the Mountains points.
“The second time up Arthurs Seat, the team behind said, ‘Listen, Chris,just sit on the wheel, we’re not going to ride behind, you are in a great position to go for the stage win and overall victory,” Froome said. “And Pete (Kennaugh) would bring it up from behind’.”
The victory is Froome’s first at Australia’s oldest stage race. He tackled the race for the first time in 2008, when he finished fourth. He is the first non-Australian champion since Sir Bradley Wiggins, who took the overall in 2009.
“It’s quite a sentimental feeling looking back to 2008,” Froome said. “Obviously what’s happened between then and now, it’s amazing to come back here and have won this final stage and the race overall.”
Kennaugh said he was happy for his teammate, but admitted he was “a bit gutted not to win.” The 26-year-old British road champion, who won the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race last week, also said the stage was marred by a verbal spat with Australian Pat Shaw (Avanti IsoWhey Sport).
Avanti IsoWhey Sport’s sports director Andrew Christie-Johnson brushed off the fight. Christie-Johnson said the disagreement began during the Cadel Evans race, but said it was nothing more than a schoolyard argument.
“There was nothing more than what Kennaugh had said to two or three of our riders over the other days,” Christie-Johnson said. “Froomey acknowledged that they’ve got someone who’s a bit of a hothead and at the same time, so do we.”
Howson finished third overall, while compatriots Jack Bobridge (Trek-Segafredo)and Jack Haig (Orica-GreenEDGE) were fourth and fifth respectively.