Aussie conquers climb as star Brit shrinks
He's talked the talk, but Jai Hindley is now walking the walk after seizing the yellow jersey on an explosive second stage of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.
Hindley, who has made no secret of his desire to win the title, survived a war of attrition to the Falls Creek summit after 117.6km, edging out Damien Howson and Sebastian Berwick in a three-man arm wrestle to the line.
But the race was turned upside down when title favourite Simon Yates was dropped from a shrinking front group with 6km still to race.
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The star Brit moved to the back of the field with 10km remaining in what rivals initially suspected was a tactical move, but it soon became clear the 2018 Tour of Spain champion was struggling.
By the finish, Yates had lost nearly six minutes on general classification, effectively ruling him out of contention and blowing Australia's oldest stage race wide open.
Team Sunweb's Hindley now leads on general classification by four seconds from Mitchelton-Scott's Howson, while young Queensland surprise packet Berwick (St George Continental) is six seconds back in third.
Hindley finished second behind Howson the last time the Herald Sun came to Falls Creek in 2017, but he was thrilled to flip the script on his compatriot three years on.
"I'm a bit lost for words really. I really love this climb," Hindley said.
"I have family who live in Mt Beauty and they're here today so it's super nice to have them watching to put on a good ride."
Howson admitted that his mind wandered back to recreating the glory of three years ago.
"Coming from Tour Down Under with Richie (Porte) being the king of Willunga, it would have been nice to start putting myself up there as a king of Falls Creek, but it wasn't to be," he joked.
Howson was set to play his usual domestique role in support of Yates, but got a promotion half way up Falls Creek when it became clear that Yates was hurting.
"It was a difficult stage and raced very hard. Unfortunately Simon didn't have the best of days so (sports director) Matt Wilson gave me the responsibility to try and pull something off," Howson said.
"I'd been told about my change in role and to be stuck second wheel wasn't the position I wanted, but I also didn't want to give everything away either (by dropping back) so I had to bide my time.
"That last 300m was an endless effort. I could taste the victory, but at the same time I knew it was going to take a big effort.
"To be around the mark is nice and it's all to play for in the remaining three days of this tour."
Friday's Stage 3 is the longest day of the race - a 178.1km trek from Bright to Wangaratta in what could be a dangerous day for the contenders.