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 like a sensible strategy, given the path ahead as the goal was more than getting the jersey but keeping it until the end.
“Absolutely that’s the goal,” said the national 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…