Stephen Williams Scores Breakthrough Win at Tour Down Under

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

The relatively unsung British Israel–Premier Tech rider Stephen Williams scored the biggest win of his career when he won the 2024 Santos Tour Down Under by taking Sunday’s final stage. He won by outsprinting Ecuador’s Jhonatan Narváez (INEOS Grenadiers) and the impressive 20-year-old Mexican Isaac del Toro (UAE Team Emirates) on the summit of Mt. Lofty. The 10-second bonus for the final-stage victory was the difference in the GC, as Williams finished 9 seconds ahead of Narváez, with del Toro a further 2 seconds adrift.

But it could be argued that this Tour Down Under had two big winners, as the Australian sprinter Sam Welsford won all three bunch sprint finishes for his new team, BORA-hansgrohe, taking the Ziptrak Sprint classification with 90 points over Eritrea’s Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty), with 76 points. Narváez finished third, with 70 points.

“I’ve lost the words, mate. That’s crazy,” Welsford said after completing his hat trick. “This has been a perfect start of the year for us, and special for me to come into a new team and have that backing straight away.”

The peloton rides past Windy Point during the final stage of the Tour Down Under. © Profimedia

The final stage began finely poised, with stage-5 runner up Williams the GC leader based on bonus points but tied in terms of time with stage-5 winner Oscar Onley (dsm-firmenich PostNL). Narváez was third and del Toro fourth, both 5 seconds adrift. The two-time world champion Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-QuickStep), Bart Lemmen (Visma–Lease a Bike) and race favorite Simon Yates (Jayco-AlUla) were all tied for fifth at 13 seconds. This meant that, as expected, the race would be decided on its final climb, up the slope of Mt. Lofty (1.6km at 6.5%), which was climbed twice in stage 6.

Del Toro was the first to attack, just after the start of the ascent, and was soon joined at the front by Narváez and Williams. The three riders stayed together up the mountain until del Toro kicked off the final sprint, which was narrowly won by Williams. Surprisingly, neither Yates nor Alaphilippe were factors in the finale, with Alaphilippe finishing sixth, at the head of a large group, which included Yates, 10 seconds behind the winner. The French rider was also sixth in the race GC, at 33 seconds, with Yates finishing seventh, with the same time.

“I’m over the moon. It’s incredible what the team has done for me in recent days, I can’t thank them enough,” Williams said after the race. “When I crossed the line, all kinds of things were going through my head. It’s so hard to win races and to do that now in the first WorldTour race of the season, here in Australia, feels fantastic. It’s time for a great party.”

Del Toro also had a lot to be happy about after making the podium and winning the Youth Classification in the first major road race of his career. “I tried it and I’m happy with that,” he said. “For my first experience it would have been better if I had won, but this is of course also good. And more importantly, I enjoyed my first race at WorldTour level.”