Mitchelton-Scott's Daryl Impey went into the sixth and final stage of the 2020 Tour Down Under on Sunday with a slim two-second lead over Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), knowing that he'd have to do something special if he wanted to hold on to his ochre leader's jersey and win his third straight title at the Australian stage race.
In the end, it wasn't to be as the South African struggled on the lower slopes of the final climb of Willunga Hill, and Porte danced away to overall victory – although the Australian's hopes of winning for a seventh time in a row on the climb were thwarted by the efforts of stage winner Matt Holmes (Lotto Soudal).
A six-second time bonus for second place on the stage and a 26-second time gap over Impey meant that Porte leapfrogged the Mitchelton-Scott leader – who faded to finish sixth overall, 30 seconds down – and resulted in Porte winning the race by 25 seconds over UAE Team Emirates' Diego Ulissi and CCC Team's Simon Geschke.
"I came over the line spent," Impey told reporters, including Cyclingnews, still clad in the leader's jersey that he'd made his own for the past two seasons, but had to finally concede this year.
"I knew I was out of it once I got dropped, but I just kept fighting to the line to try to limit the damage and to try to finish on the podium. Once I knew where I was today – that I wasn't on a great day – I struggled a little bit there on the bottom slopes and, yep, I probably have paid for quite a busy week," he said, referring to his week-long efforts to take bonus seconds at the race's intermediate sprints and at the finish of each stage, which all combined to give him the race lead and his two-second buffer going into the final stage.
"That being said, we gave it our all. I'm still happy with the performance, but am obviously disappointed about today, and wanted to get more, but that's how it goes," Impey continued.
"I don't want to look for any excuses. I think Richie proved that he was the best climber here. Going into today's stage, I would have preferred to have had a 20-second buffer like we usually come to this stage with," he smiled, "but it was a lot closer this year, and he rode a great race.
"I had to be in a position to get time, and to put myself in a position to possibly win, and last year I finished on Richie's wheel, and that was a possibility this year, but the body didn't respond in the same way as last year," said Impey.
"We wanted the break to stay away, so that the bonuses were gone, so we tactically rode a good race, I think," he said of the team's lack of presence at the front of the bunch for virtually the first time in the past week, as a 26-rider group went up the road almost from the gun on the day's 151.5km stage.
Both Impey and his Mitchelton-Scott sports director Matt White had expected an early break to go clear and take the intermediate-sprint bonuses that Impey would have liked to have taken to bolster his overall lead, but once the large group was out of sight, the team hoped that it might stay away all the way to the finish and take the 10, six and four bonus seconds available at the finish.
"It wasn't really up to us to chase all day, and so we just tried to put ourselves in a position that the stage could go away to someone else, and I think we ticked that box in that the stage did go to someone else," Impey said of the stage victory from Holmes, who was left from the breakaway, which was only caught on the final climb.
Despite the best efforts of Impey's Mitchelton teammate Simon Yates to cling to Porte's wheel, the Trek-Segafredo leader rode all of his overall rivals off his wheel with relative ease en route to what was his second overall win at the race, after also taking the title in 2017.
"Richie was flying today," said Impey, "so he was always going to be hard to beat."