Two-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome won Australia’s Herald Sun Tour on Sunday ahead of fellow Briton Peter Kennaugh, as he took the fourth and final stage of the race.

Froome (Team Sky), who had not competed for five months, won the 121.8-kilometre (75.7-mile) stage four in the Mornington Peninsula in a solo push, 17 seconds ahead of Australian Damien Howson (Orica-GreenEDGE).

Olympic gold medallist and Sky teammate Kennaugh, who had maintained his lead in the general classification standings in stage three, finished the stage — which featured three ascents of Arthurs Seat — in seventh place and second overall.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Froome, 30, told broadcaster Nine Network of his strong start to the season.

“(I’ve) put in a lot of hard yards this winter, which hasn’t been easy with the new family starting and everything back home,” he added, thanking his family and team.

Froome and New Zealand’s Joe Cooper (Avanti IsoWhey Sport) built a lead as they took on the second climb, with the Briton attacking with some three kilometres to go.

“It was something that unfolded out on the road when I went for the King of the Mountain points,” Froome said. 

“The second time up Arthurs Seat, the team behind said, ‘Listen, Chris, just sit on the wheel, we’re not going to ride behind, you are in a great position to go for the stage win and overall victory, and Pete (Kennaugh) would bring it up from behind’.”

Froome first tackled Australia’s oldest stage race in 2008, when he finished fourth. 

“It’s quite a sentimental feeling looking back to 2008… obviously what’s happened between then and now, it’s amazing to come back here and have won this final stage and the race overall,” Froome, who won the Tour de France in 2013 and 2015, said.

Kennaugh said he was “a bit gutted not to win” but said teammate Froome deserved the victory.

The 26-year-old British road champion, who won the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race last week, said the stage was marred by a verbal spat with Australian Pat Shaw (Avanti IsoWhey Sport).

Avanti IsoWhey Sport’s sports director Andrew Christie-Johnson brushed off the fight, which he said had began during the Cadel race, as nothing but a schoolyard argument.

“There was nothing more than what Kennaugh had said to two or three of our riders over the other days,” Christie-Johnson said.

“Froomey acknowledged that they’ve got someone who’s a bit of a hothead and at the same time, so do we.”

In the overall standings, Howson was third, while compatriots Jack Bobridge (Trek-Segafredo)and Jack Haig (Orica-GreenEDGE) were fourth and fifth respectively. – Agence France-Presse

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