The People’s Choice Classic was – as expected – an electric race to watch. The riders raced furiously around the short 1.7km circuit, with Caleb Ewan of Orica GreenEDGE showing that he is the man to watch when it comes to a sprint finish, as he disposed of his opposition with a fierce sprint kick. But what of our Kiwi contingent, what can we make of them as they head from the frying pan and into the fire of the first World Tour race of 2016?
Ok, so the results first. Caleb Ewan of Orica GreenEDGE, Giacomo Nizzolo of Trek-Segafredo and Adam Blythe of Tinkoff took 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Greg Henderson was the fastest of the Kiwis with the Lotto Soudal man coming home in 11th, Patrick Bevin finished 29th, while both George Bennett of LottoNL-Jumbo and Jesse Sergent of AG2R La Mondiale sat up and came home around a minute later. Make no mistake Caleb Ewan is a rider to be respected and feared in the sharp end of the peloton. He is just 21 years old but he has one of the most powerful sprint finishes in the world already!
Our first Kiwi, Greg Henderson, deserves a mention as we head to the first stage in Prospect today. He had an opportunity in the People’s Choice Classic to go for a sprint and he took it. Sadly for him Orica GreenEDGE, IAM Cycling and Cannondale Pro Cycling were all out in force and it took a big effort from the lone red jersey of Henderson to remain in contention. But remain he did, and while he had to launch his sprint from a long way back he made up a number of places to take 11th on the line. What he might be able to do with a full team of support when the 1km to go banner hones into view today and later on this week will be very interesting to watch.
So too will be the role of Patrick Bevin. We know him as a man of many talents who can take many a race-winning opportunity when it shows itself, but in the People’s Choice Classic he was domestique and lead out man for teammate Wouter Wippert. Wippert placed 9th with Bevin sticking around in the front bunch behind him after his job was done. Cannondale are a force unknown when it comes to sprint finishes, partly because this is the first real time in a while that we’ve seen a Cannondale sprint train. In the past they’ve focussed on breakaway, climber, Ardennes classic success; but now they have a chance at being more rounded across the board. In the People’s Choice Classic they found themselves swamped at the front a bit with Dimension Data, IAM Cycling, Orica GreenEDGE and Team Sky just appearing to muscle them out a little, however, they were there and they were a constant at or near the front. A little more fine-tuning and who knows; they could be the new sprint train to watch this year . . .
Jesse Sergent is straight into a new team in AG2R La Mondiale and was straight off the front in Adelaide. What’s very exciting is that so too were his teammates. AG2R La Mondiale were not afraid to play an attacking game in the Classic, in part because they don’t have sprinters in their line up who can rival the likes of Ewan, Nizzolo and co. Their highest placed rider was Gediminas Bagdonas who finished 15th, but they played to their strengths.
AG2R La Mondiale were on the front of the field early and Sergent went off the front in a breakaway with Jay McCarthy of Tinkoff, Jasha Sutterlin of Movistar, Lucas Hamilton of UniSA and Salvatore Pucci of Team Sky. While the break was caught, the French team weren’t done, with Christophe Riblon and Alexis Gougeard both going off the front; taking a chance. And yes, it was a small chance, it was always likely to end in a bunch sprint; but the ‘lets have a go’ attitude may well come in handy this week. Don’t be surprised if we see Sergent off the front of the bunch a little more between now and Sunday.
George Bennett is the only one we have a real question mark over. Sprints are not his thing, hills most certainly are. Stage 3 of this year’s race to Campbelltown could present him with an opportunity, but the fifth stage up Old Willunga Hill will most certainly be more to his liking.