The last time Luke Burns (Australian National Team) came to the Tour Down Under was about 15 years ago. At that time he was a 10-year-old in town to see riders like Cadel Evans and Stuart O’Grady – now race director – but this time it was Burns that was pinning on a number.
After claiming the Mountain Classification lead on stage 2, Burns had already managed a visit to the podium in his first World Tour race. Chances are it won’t be the last either.
The 25-year-old with a triathlon background amassed a solid lead in the KOM competition when he attacked near the very start of Wednesday’s stage from Norwood to Lobethal and went away with Jardi Van Der Lee (EF Education-EasyPost).
“I sort of had that plan in the back of my mind going into the tour and then there was a chance to pick up a few points yesterday to set it up,” Burns told Cyclingnews after going to the podium to claim the KOM jersey.
“Luckily for me it was the perfect scenario, that I made the first move and there was just the two of us up the road and we were able to clean up all the points.”
The day out the front ended for Van Der Lee and Burns when they were absorbed back into the bunch after more than 100km, but not before Burns had moved himself to first spot in the climber’s competition with 23 points, and Van Der Lee second with 17.
“We were just tapping, we knew it was going to be pretty hard to stay away,” said Burns. “I was out there chasing points and to get some exposure for the team as well.”
The gap at times was over five minutes but by the time the leading pair had swept up the top spots in the last mountain points of the day and headed toward the last lap of racing it was down to more like two minutes, not helped by the fact that Van Der Lee had a flat and Burns waited for him to rejoin.
“I was chatting to Matt Wilson [Australian team’s DS] going into the last lap about whether it was worth punching on to try and stay away with that gap but into the headwind, into the climb, it was never going to work. It was worth sitting up.”
Sitting up and conserving energy seemed the sensible strategy, given the path ahead as the break was about more than getting the jersey for a day or two – the aim is keeping it until the end.
“Absolutely that’s the goal,” said team sports director Wilson. “I think he has got a very good chance. Generally, these sort of jerseys, once you get a little bit of a gap and start to defend, it’s a little bit easier than trying to come from behind.
“There are a lot of points on offer even till the very last day so it certainly won’t be a done deal until that final stage but we’ve actually got a really good team here. He’s got some good support there and he is obviously going well.”
Burns swept up top points in two out the three stage 2 chances, with formidable uphill speed in the dash to the line.
The rider may be relatively new to racing his bike, but is quickly gathering experience and solid results. When he raced in Europe with his BridgeLane team last season he finished sixth overall at the 2.2-ranked Tour de la Mirabelle, also delivered overall results just outside the top 10 in three more races.
“My goal is to make it to the pro teams,’’ Burns said. “I’ve got a lot more potential to grow as a 25-year-old compared to other 25-year-olds that have been in the sport for a lot longer. I did triathlon at a very high level, and it’s helped me progress quickly I would say.”
The rider from Victoria also took on one of the state-level races that National Champion Luke Plapp (Jayco-AlUla) used as part of his training build, the Tour of Bright. There he came second to Plapp on a stage that ended on top of Mount Buffalo and showed the strength of his climbing form by holding Plapp’s wheel much longer than anyone else.
Burns will again be trying to stay with Plapp and all the key overall contenders for as long as he can over the weekend too, as while there are some KOM points available over the next two sprint stages, the top points tally is 13 all up, and 50 in the final two stages.
The good news for Burns, however is that often the final finish line isn’t the one he has to worry about as 40 of that 50 top points tally on the weekend will be decided in before the final summit of the stage.
“If he is lining up against all the best climbers here I think he may struggle,” said Wilson. “But all the KOM prizes aren’t necessarily won on those final climbs they are won on the climbs before so he has certainly got the climbing ability to do anything, I think, in those early stages.”
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