Allan Davis had a comeback story almost as gripping as Lance Armstrong’s to tell after he defended his lead yesterday to win the Tour Down Under.
Davis won three of the tour’s first five stages to lead by 25 seconds entering yesterday’s 81km final leg and finished among the main bunch to sustain that margin of overall victory.
Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner in his comeback from a three-year retirement, was officially classified 29th in the final standings, 49 seconds behind Davis on aggregate time.
Davis is the only rider to have contested all editions of the race and was twice a runner-up before his breakthrough win yesterday.
“I’ve finally done it, I can’t believe it,” Davis said. “This win is very important to the [Quick Step] team. It’s the first ProTour race of the season. With three stages and the overall it has been an unbelievable race.”
Francesco Chicchi of Italy won the final stage in a desperate sprint finish, but Davis was close enough to cling to his overall lead. Armstrong, after leading, finished 71st on the stage.
More than 144,000 people turned out to see the stage, raced over 18 laps of a 4.5km street circuit straddling the Torrens river in central Adelaide, and were thrilled when Armstrong dashed to the front with little more than a lap remaining.
The seven-time Tour de France leader showed impressive power as he first hunted down a four man leading group, hooked onto its last wheel then surged past the breakaway to take the lead.
A loud cheer went up when news that Armstrong was in front was relayed to the crowd, but the American was quickly reclaimed by the peloton.
“I can’t lie. I felt pretty good today,” Armstrong said. “It was a comfortable circuit and I gave it a little go with a couple of laps left but I needed to be with some more guys. I couldn’t stay away from the charging field.”
“It helps when you have good legs. I felt a lot better today, actually felt the best day of the entire week so when you feel good and you have good legs, you have to go for it, don’t you?” he said
Armstrong praised Davis for his return to top cycling after an 18-month fight to clear his name from peripheral inclusion in a Spanish anti-doping investigation. Davis was one of 50 cyclists drawn into Operation Puerto, a broad-based investigation of doping in sport, and succeeded in proving his innocence after a lengthy legal battle.
“It was a great victory for Allan, who is obviously a great friend of ours and a former teammate of ours,” Armstrong said. “He went through his own troubles and I’m proud of him, I’m happy for him. He was seemingly invincible on [some stages] and controlled the race well, never panicked. He’s back.”
Armstrong was happy with his fitness and performance on the six-day tour, his first professional stage race in more than three years. He finished among the leading bunch on every stage, stretched his legs on breaks on the second and final stages and found the race rhythm that was his object on the tour.
“It was a good re-entry into the sport, hard racing as I’ve said a lot of times and enthusiastic crowds,” he said.
He said the Australian event had given him “good momentum” ahead of his next race in the Tour of California from Feb. 14-22.
“[This] is a good indication I’ve done the right work. I still have to fine tune things, get lighter, still get fitter and work on certain aspects of my conditioning but I’m headed in the right way,” Armstrong said.