Caleb Ewan has rocketed to take a heat-shortened Stage 1 and the overall lead of the Tour Down Under. The Aussie sprint sensation edged out SKY's Danny Van Poppel and Bora-Hansgrohe's Sam Bennett in a tight Lyndoch sprint.
Words - James Raison Photo credit: Santos Tour Down Under / Regallo
Hostworks Stage 1 of the Tour Down rolled out of the stinking hot King William Road cafe strip for 145 kms of direct, uncompromising sunlight. The peloton reluctantly rumbled through the city with plenty of ice packs visible under the riders’ jerseys.
The course was an undulating roll through the North-Eastern suburbs before 2 laps of a Barossa Valley circuit and a flat finish in Lyndoch. It was a largely processional pace as the riders looked to protect themselves from the South Australian Summer.
Astana’s Laurens De Vreese must have an extra large serving of bravery flakes for breakfast, and decided to ride off the front solo. The Belgian was rewarded with the first KOM points, and pulled on the polkadot jersey at the end of the day.
The solo rider forged on ahead as the peloton set a casual pace behind, led predominantly by Orica Scott and Trek Segafredo. Pace was downright cruisy over the first 60 km, with an average speed of 27 km/h.
Race radio crackled soon after with news that the stage would be shortened to 118 km due to extreme heat, following a conversation between Adam Hansen (Lotto-Soudal) and the Chief Commissaire.
At the head of the race, De Vreese continued to scoop up points and time bonuses as the group organised behind to contest the remaining prizes. Four riders bumped elbows all the way to the line with Nathan Haas (Dimension Data) and Simon Gerrans (Orica Scott) taking the spoils.
De Vreese was swallowed up by a reluctant peloton with 19 km to go. The bunch fanned out across the road as everyone wanted to be at the front but nobody wanted to drive the pace.
Sprint point 2 livened the race as the front riders whipped wildly across the road. A well-timed kick from Jay McCarthy (Bora Hansgrohe) rewarded him with 3 bonus seconds ahead of Jose Goncalves (Katusha Alpecin) and Simon Gerrans.
Jan Bakelants (AG2R La Mondiale) decided to go solo off the front and soon amassed a minute lead. Aussie man-of-steel Adam Hansen kicked off to cross the gap soon after but never gained more than a few seconds over the Orica Scott-led chase behind. Bakelants was swarmed with 5 km to go as the sprint teams upped the pace.
Organisation dissolved under the 1 km banner and Sunweb took over at the front. Peter Sagan (Bora Hansgrohe) took matters into his own hands and gave the lead-out to team-mate Sam Bennett inside the last 500 metres.
Caleb Ewan (Orica Scott) opened up his sprint first as Danny Van Poppel (SKY) and Bennett furiously chased. It was too late for the international challengers, Ewan dropped into his signature ultra-low position and maintained half a wheel over Van Poppel and Bennett to the line. It was a close finish in the end, with none of the top three willing to celebrate.
Ewan explained after the race: "a lot of riders ran out of gas in the lead out in that last straight because there was a lot of head wind there," he explained. "Many riders misjudged it and it was a super messy sprint... I'm super happy to get that win because it was very tight in the end."
Second place Van Poppel said “I can be satisfied with second, because I was really bad in the criterium on Sunday," said Van Poppel. "The guys did a great job for me and I really had a lot of horsepower out there in the front working for me.
Richie Porte (BMC) lauded the decision to shorten the stage: “I think it was brilliant that the race organisers respected the riders," said Porte. "I think that was the hottest day I’ve had on the bike.... I’ve never ridden in anything quite like that and even in the shade it was hot."
"We have two ambitions in this Tour and we really have to use our guys conservatively and take the best out of them," said Ewan who is sharing team support with Simon Gerrans who is hoping to defend his 2016 crown. "They did an amazing job at the end.
"It's going to be a really nice feeling to have the leaders jersey tomorrow."
Current standings have Caleb Ewan with 4 seconds over Danny Van Poppel and Sam Bennett in third, 6 seconds in arrears.
Top 10 finishers for Hostworks Stage 1:
1. Caleb Ewan - ORICA-SCOTT
2. Danny Van Poppel - Team Sky
3. Sam Bennett - Bora-hansgrohe
4. Marko Kump - UAE Abu Dhabi
5. Niccolo Bonifazio - Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling Team
6. Nikias Arndt - Team Sunweb
7. Baptiste Planckaert - Team KATUSHA ALPECIN
8. Edward Theuns - Trek-Segafredo
9. Miles Scotson - BMC Racing Team
10. Sean De Bie - Lotto Soudal Cycling
Top 10 overall after Stage 1:
1. Caleb Ewan - ORICA-SCOTT
2. Danny Van Poppel - Team Sky: +4
3. Sam Bennett - Bora-Hansgrohe: +6
4. Jay McCarthy - Bora-Hansgrohe: +7
5. Nathan Haas - Team Dimension Data: +8
6. Simon Gerrans - Orica-Scott: ST
7. Jose Goncalves - Movistar: ST
8. Marko Kump - UAE Abu Dhabi: ST
9. Niccolo Bonifazio - Bahrain Merida: ST
10. Nikias Arndt - SunWeb: ST