Sam Welsford cemented his status as the fastest sprinter at the Tour Down Under on Friday after winning his third stage in four days.
The 136.2km flat run from Murray Bridge to the historic, coastal town of Port Elliot was the last chance for sprinters at this year’s race, with the remaining two stages featuring summit finishes.
That was not lost any of Welsford’s rivals, including Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty), Elia Viviani (Ineos Grenadiers), Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain Victorious), and Caleb Ewan (Jayco-Alula), who were left found wanting.
The dominance of the Australian and how quickly he has integrated into Bora-Hansgrohe’s existing lead-out train has been a talking point of the race. Welsford is only days into a new contract and new campaign but is now just one victory short of equallying his tally of four wins in 2023.
The success comes on the back of two years at Team dsm-firmenich PostNL, which backed the fast man, who turned 28 on Friday, to ride in his first Tour de France last season.
“I almost forgot it was my birthday because I was so into the race and thinking about the final but again the boys did an amazing job looking after me,” Welsford said post-race.
“The boys are really feeding off how good we’re going this week, and the momentum keeps rolling.
“The earlier you can get it right and get on the same wavelength as the boys as a unit is super important for the rest of the season because we know when you go to the UAE Tour, or the Giro, you’re going to have a lot more competition, and that’s when it’s also harder to get right. So, if you’re already hitting those big races with a good experience under the belt it makes a huge difference.”
Friday’s sprint was less “picture perfect” than Welsford’s previous two but the squad still navigated the disorganised bunch kick to great effect.
“The boys are really good at picking a side and defending it. That’s one of our strengths,” said Welsford. “We can take a side, look after the sprinter in that side, keep them out of the wind, and give them the easiest ride possible. That’s the big difference I’ve noticed this year is the support I’m getting into the sprint. It makes a huge difference.”
Recently retired lead-out specialist turned Bora-Hansgrohe sports director Shane Archbold attributed Welsford’s development last year, and specifically his participation at the Tour de France, as a contributor to his strong start in 2024.
“There’s not too many races in modern cycling where you can win multiple stages even in sprints. It just shows that the lead-out is super strong, and Sam is the fastest guy at the moment who is here,” Archbold said.
“You could say the team has helped him. I think he had pretty good support at dsm so I couldn’t say that Bora is the biggest change.
“I think for Sam the biggest thing is a really strong winter, and the Tour de France. The Tour de France has put him in good stead. Obviously, he’s been that fast. He’s always ridden the track, the power has always been there, it’s just converting it to the road, and I would say it’s probably more that he’s got the Tour de France in his legs and he’s growing from strength to strength.”
Up until now the media’s focus on Bora-Hansgrohe has largely focussed on its climbing roster, which this year includes Primož Roglič, Jai Hindley and Aleksandr Vlasov.
But it’s hard now to overlook the team’s sprinting depth and Archbold is confident that Welsford – who is this year balancing objectives in the WorldTour with a gold medal track bid at the Paris Olympic Games – will be well backed at the Giro d’Italia, which he is set to compete in.
“He’ll get support. I don’t know if that’s two, three or four guys in front of him but he definitely will get a decent lead-out train at a Grand Tour,” said Archbold.
“You can’t deny it now he’s won three WorldTour races. Like, if a sprinter wins more than five WorldTour races this year, or let’s say more than three sprinters win more than five, I’d be completely surprised.”