Anatomy of a breakaway victory: The story of Owain Doull’s Sun Tour success

Breakaway riders know the deal. You get out front and slog away for hours on end, all in the faint hope you’ll be able (or allowed) to survive to the finish. Most of the time it doesn’t work — the breakaway gets caught. But sometimes, when the conditions are just right, the breakaway manages to survive.

It did on Friday’s stage 3 of the 2019 Jayco Herald Sun Tour.

Nine riders got clear after about 45km of racing, building a lead that peaked above five minutes. Then, with 5km to go, and the gap down around a minute, Sky duo Owain Doull and Luke Rowe got clear of their companions and went on to finish 1-2, in that order.

Rowe and Doull had hatched the plan as the breakaway approached the finish in Warragul.

“Luke said we can’t go any faster the two of us than with eight guys go through,” Doull said. “So we said we’ll get everyone to go through and then five k to go we’ll just start 1-2ing.

“Luke went first, didn’t quite get the gap. I went over the top, I got a gap and then Luke managed to jump across and then 5k out we just kind of TTed it to the finish. It seems simple but it took a lot more than that.”

So what else was involved? What are the ingredients required for a successful breakaway? There are a few.

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1. You need the right kind of stage

First and foremost, today’s stage of the Sun Tour was something of a transition stage. It was the longest stage of the tour, but one that was sandwiched between the two most important days for the GC contenders.

As a result, the teams of the GC leaders were willing to let the break go. They were happy to have a somewhat easier day, to recover from the efforts of a tough stage 2, and to freshen up for Saturday’s queen stage on Arthurs Seat.

And many riders knew this.

“We’d earmarked today’s stage as a potential day for the break to go with how the race was folding out so far and we were both pretty keen,” Doull said of he and Rowe. “Myself and Luke made sure we lost time yesterday so the break could get a bit of rope out on the road.

“I think a lot of guys wanted to be in the break today because a lot of people knew that it was probably going to go to the finish like it did. So the break didn’t really go till about 45k.”

2. You need riders that don’t threaten the GC

The teams of the GC leaders won’t let a move go if someone high on GC is up there. That’s partially why it took 45km for the break to go on Friday — the peloton needed to be happy with the composition of the group out front.

“Everybody that was up the road was eight minutes or more down on the GC,” said overall leader Michael Woods. “We just made sure we kept the gap down around four or five minutes, then brought in down to three and then Mitchelton[-Scott] took over but they weren’t able to bring it back totally.

“Which worked great in our favour — it meant that it wasn’t very stressful for the finish and I could roll in and feel good for tomorrow.”

3. You need a strong, committed breakaway group

Even if the teams of the GC leaders aren’t desperate to pull the break back, the riders out front still need to be strong. They need to be able to keep the pressure on and they need to work well together to hold off any chase that might eventuate.

With three WorldTour riders — Doull, Rowe and Will Clarke — plus two-time Melbourne to Warrnambool winner Nathan Elliott in the mix, Friday’s breakaway was certainly strong by Sun Tour standards.

“All day we had to work for it — we weren’t given too much for free and we were pushing all day,” Doull said. “I think that kind of played into our favor that it was a strong day in the end with us being WorldTour riders.

“I was really impressed by all the guys in the break. No one was ever missing turns, everyone really committed to it. Fair play — I’ve got to thank those guys as well for fully committing all the way to the line.”

It was a strong breakaway that got clear on stage 3.

4. You need a lack of firepower (or willingness) behind

The Sun Tour isn’t the Tour de France. There aren’t half a dozen world-class sprinters here, all with teams built to reel in breakaways and form powerful lead-out trains. Most of the sprinters here — Wouter Wippert (EvoPro), Brenton Jones (Korda Mentha – Australia), Theo Yates (Drapac-Cannondale) — are from the smaller teams; teams that have less firepower for the chase than the WorldTour teams.

Not just that, but on Friday’s stage 3, the WorldTour teams weren’t incentivised to commit everything to the chase.

Mitchelton-Scott don’t have a top-level sprinter at the Sun Tour. EF Education First have Dan McLay but they also have Michael Woods in the overall lead. And the two other WorldTour teams, Sky and Trek-Segafredo, were both represented in the breakaway.

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In the case of Friday’s stage of the Sun Tour, everything fell into place perfectly for the breakaway. It was the right stage for the break, the peloton wasn’t as motivated as it could have been to chase, the riders in the break weren’t a threat for the GC, and those riders rode strongly as a cohesive unit. At least until the final 5km.

Cooperation will normally disappear in the break once the finish is near — having worked together for a common goal, attention turns to winning the race. But when it came to Friday’s finish, there was no need for infighting within Team Sky. Luke Rowe, who won a stage of the Sun Tour two years back, was feeling generous.

“It came around perfectly for us with the two of us being away 5k to go,” Doull said. “And then Luke the gentleman said to me ‘You can have it’. So I was more than happy to take it.”

The win means more to Doull than it would have for Rowe. While Doull is an Olympic gold medalist in the team pursuit, today’s win is his first professional victory on the road.

“Obviously I’ve won bigger stuff before like the Olympics but that’s on the track — it’s almost like a different sport in a way, the road,” he said. “It’s been a while since I’ve won stuff on the road so it’s nice to get the hands in the air at last for the first pro win.”

Sometimes everything just falls into place perfectly.

Follow the link for full results from stage 3 of the 2019 Jayco Herald Sun Tour.

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