Daryl Impey’s Tour Down Under triumph was also a school of hard knocks for young Australian teammate Caleb Ewan.
As Impey became the first South African to win the Tour title, Ewan finished a week of highs and lows by narrowly missing a second stage win.
German sprint ace Andre Greipel caught Ewan on the line for the second time in six days, racking up stage win 18 at the Tour at Sunday’s 90km Adelaide street race.
Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) finished on the podium in all the sprint stages and produced an outstanding ride to take out stage two at Stirling in the Adelaide Hills.
But he also botched the finish the following day at Victor Harbor.
And Sunday ended much the same way as it did in stage one, with Ewan leading the sprint and Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) passing him.
Ewan, 23, is Australia’s best sprinter since Robbie McEwen and this year he will make his much-anticipated Tour de France debut.
Impey noted the sprint field at the Tour Down Under was far stronger than last year, when Ewan won four stages.
This time Ewan had to contend with Greipel, world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and top Italian Elia Viviani (Quick Step), who also won a stage apiece.
“A guy like Greipel is so experienced and it shows, for sure,” Impey said.
“Caleb made a few mistakes here and it cost him, we also made a few mistakes (as a team).
“We’d rather do it here than the Tour de France – it’s a great stepping stone.”
Daryl Impey post-race interview
Greipel also has no doubt about how Ewan is progressing.
“As you could see also at the (uphill) finish in Stirling, he’s built his engine … that makes him a big rival in the coming years,” Greipel said.
The Tour was also a triumph for Impey, who usually works for his teammates.
It is the fourth time Mitchelton-Scott has won the Tour – Simon Gerrans, who claimed the previous three, is now at BMC.
Mitchelton-Scott sprung a major surprise this week with Impey – they said pre-race their only goal was stage wins.
Impey stunned the race by finishing second in Sunday’s pivotal Willunga stage behind Australian star Richie Porte (BMC).
That tied Impey and Porte for the overall lead, but the South African won on a countback of stage placings.
Final Stage Highlights
Porte conceded immediately after Willunga, noting his team lacked the sprint strength to challenge Mitchelton-Scott on the flat Adelaide stage.
Impey said the Tour title rivalled wearing the yellow jersey for two days in the 2013 Tour de France.
“That moment was magical, but this is very close to it,” Impey said.
“I worked really hard for this one.
“It’s definitely a step up in my career.”
Porte wanted to become the first champion in the Tour’s 20-year history to defend his title.
But he is pleased with his form, winning at Willunga for the fifth year in a row, and his performance at the Tour shows he is back after last year’s Tour de France crash.