Geraint Thomas attacked the intermediate sprints to jump up two places to third overall on the final stage at the Tour Down Under.
Refusing to remain downbeat following Saturday’s disappointment, Team Sky regrouped in a bid to propel Thomas up the leaderboard with the aid of bonus seconds on the final criterium stage around Adelaide.
The team worked hard as a unit to keep attacks at bay before providing two full lead-outs for Thomas who won the first sprint on lap eight and claimed a vital single second on lap 12 to secure third. For his troubles Thomas also secured the overall points and competitive jerseys.
Tom Jelte Slagter (Blanco) completed the final stage safely to take a landmark overall victory while Andre Greipel snatched a third stage win in Adelaide.
Young Dutchman Slagter simply had to stay safe to seal the ochre jersey and finished the 90-kilometre circuit with his 13-second advantage still intact ahead of Javier Moreno (Movistar) and a rejuvenated Thomas.
Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) was again unstoppable in the sprint, bringing up his 100th career victory as he held off Mark Renshaw (Blanco) and a relentless Edvald Boasson Hagen at the finish. Thomas also placed sixth for good measure on a great day for the team.
After the finish Thomas was quick to heap praise onto his team-mates for the incredible work-rate shown during the final stage.
"We didn’t want to just give up and throw it away," he said. "We knew there was one more day. Traditionally no one really bothers on a final stage like this but we were up for it. The boys rode unbelievable and did [the hard work] for me. The lead-out for the sprint was amazing. I’m not the best sprinter in the world and especially when I’m tired I don’t have that much of a kick. I just followed Edvald and nabbed the points on the line.
"I tried to help Eddy at the end. He ended up on Greipel’s wheel and rode third so I think it’s topped off a really good week. We’ve had a good laugh and we got the win and a few placings, so for the first race of the year I think we can all be happy."
Once again seen controlling things on the front, as he had for most of the race, Bernhard Eisel was also understandably happy with how the final stage played out.
"It was perfect teamwork today," he told Sky Sports. "I literally turned myself inside out during the stage as I knew it was the last day. We knew every team would attack - especially Euskaltel and RadioShack - and that's what they did. They made it really hard for us. We knew that we had to do a big 12 laps with the two intermediate sprints and that if we could get four seconds [for Thomas] our race was nearly over."
Eisel also praised the strength of the team when it came to rebounding from Saturday's disappointment, adding: "It was important to bounce back and get the podium today. Geraint and the team gave it everything yesterday. We watched the stage back on TV and we could see there was nothing more we could have done. Slagter and (Simon) Gerrans were just stronger.
"We said to ourselves that we'd fight back today and I'm happy for everyone in the team. We went through a lot of hard training in Mallorca in the last few months and it's paid off."
Plenty to play for
With the team capping off a superb week of hard racing with another show of strength and teamwork, Kurt-Asle Arvesen admitted he was very happy following his first race as Sports Director.
“We finished back on our feet after yesterday," he said. "The guys rode really well. The plan was to go for the bonus sprint and G won the first one and took third on the second which was really impressive. That put him back on the podium. I’m really happy for the guys and of course G.
“The guy did three perfect lead-outs in one race. The main goal was to bring G back up the GC and then after that we left it up to Edvald. He still had the team around him with a fantastic lead-out, even after all the work earlier in the race. It was a good day.”
With a number of riders sitting close on the general classification and a maximum of 16 bonus seconds available on the road there was still plenty to play for over 20 laps of the now familiar 4.5km circuit.
Team Sky kept a tight grip on proceedings early on ahead of the first intermediate sprint on lap eight. When they arrived there Thomas produced a great sprint, diving for the line to take the maximum three seconds in a photo finish.
A further second gained four laps later was enough for the Brit who helped gain an increased haul of WorldTour points in the process - not to mention a memorable victory on stage two.
With the intermediate sprints in the book there was finally time for a break to stick, Jordan Kerby (Uni-SA), Blel Kadri (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Martin Kohler (BMC Racing) holding a slender advantage as the laps ticked off.
Inevitably the sprinters’ teams rallied, Team Sky and Lotto going head to head but in the final 200 metres there was no stopping Greipel.