Andre Greipel announced himself at the OVO Energy Tour of Britain with victory in the opening stage of the race. A bountiful number of Kiwis took to the start line at Pembrey Country Park for the opener, but it was the ‘Gorilla’ who took the opening day’s honours ahead of Caleb Ewan and Fernando Gaviria.
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175km from Pembrey Country Park to Newport got the 15th OVO Energy Tour of Britain underway. The stage was largely unchallenging and primed for a sprint finish but a breakaway group containing Matt Bostock of Great Britain, Richard Handley of Madison-Genesis, Matthew Tegg of Team WIGGINS, Tom Moses of JLT-Condor, Rory Townsend of Canyon Eisberg and Nic Dlamini of Dimension Data decided to take on the day ahead of the pack.
The break’s advantage topped out at 2.45mins and with Quick-Step Floors, Mitchelton-Scott, Team Sky and EF Education First-Drapac all very keen on bringing things together for a bunch sprint, the knowledge of their impending catch was surely certain for the break. With 51km to go the gap was a mere minute and not looking good for the bunch.
However, the peloton weren’t too keen on catching the break early and the six leaders were allowed a reprieve before once again being reined back in. The combination of the World Tour outfits of EF Education First-Drapac, Quick-Step Floors and Mitchelton-Scott together asserted a very commanding position in the bunch and at 20km remaining the gap had come down to just over 20 seconds.
Rory Townsend was the last man standing from the breakaway that finally fell apart in the final 17km. The Canyon Eisberg rider pushed on and at 15km to go his gap had grown slightly to 25 seconds but with the intensity on the front of the race strong from Team Sky and co the catch was finally made with 12km remaining.
Belmont Hill was the final test of the stage before the finishing kick. The climb was just 0.8km in length but Team Sky saw an opportunity to light up the race and Ian Stannard surged to the front to take a massive turn on the front. As Vasil Kiryienka hit the front towards the foot of the climb Geraint Thomas launched an attack with 8.4km left to race. Quick-Step Floors were on to him nearly immediately and the attack eventually came to naught, but then Julian Alaphilippe and Bob Jungels went on the attack together.
Their move appeared a little more promising and the bunch had been blitzed behind them. Jonathan Hivert of Direct Energie and Mads Würtz Schmidt of Katusha-Alpecin managed to bridge across to the duo and with 6km to go the gap had grown to 10 seconds. Even in the group, though, the attacks weren’t done yet, as Bob Jungels attacked at 5km to go. Quick-Step Floors knew they could play the tactical game with Alaphilippe sitting on now.
Back in the bunch Team Sunweb and Lotto Soudal were paying close attention to the front of the race but was it running away with them? Jungels was in time trial mode and looking exceptionally strong as the rest of the attack were swept up with 3.4km to go. With 2.8km remaining Jungels had 11 seconds in hand but Team Sky and Great Britain were now marshalling their troops at the front of the race and that served to eat into Jungels’ advantage. The Luxembourg rider had 8 seconds with 2km to go but finally with 1km to go the catch was made and BMC Racing led the way towards the sprint.
Suddenly Lotto Soudal made their way in perfect time towards the front of the race, but were suddenly countered by a massive move from Fernando Gaviria. The Colombian went very early and took a big gap into the final hundred metres or so; but Greipel came through and just managed to fend off Caleb Ewan to take the win with Gaviria third.
Dion Smith of Wanty-Groupe Gobert and Patrick Bevin of BMC Racing were the first Kiwis to cross the line with Ryan Chritsensen of Canyon Eisberg, Hayden McCormick and James Oram of ONE Pro Cycling all finishing in the bunch.