Caleb Ewan has cemented himself as the new Australian fast man to watch after winning the first stage of the Santos Tour Down Under. Backing up his win in the People’s Choice Classic two days ago, Ewan took the win in Lyndoch ahead of Mark Renshaw and Wouter Wippert.
The first stage of the 2016 Santos Tour Down Under took the field 130.8km from Prospect to Lyndoch and was primed for a sprint finish. Last year the opening stage saw a surprise winner from a breakaway in the form of newly crowned Australian national champion Jack Bobridge who upset all the sprinters when he took the win in Campbelltown.
It took less than 5km for the first attack to go clear, with AG2R La Mondiale’s Alexis Gougeard joined by Sean Lake of UniSA and Martijn Keizer of LottoNL-Jumbo. The trio quickly established a minute’s lead with Orica GreenEDGE assuming control of the front of the bunch behind them. That built to more than 2.30mins but that quickly dropped to 1.20mins as the riders entered the feed zone with more than 100km still to go.
Lampre-Merida joined the chase effort, but for now at least there was no urgency to bring the break back, and the three leaders were allowed to stretch their lead out again to 2.15mins. The advantage proceeded to yo-yo between 1-2mins but the break’s days out in front were numbered, and their cause was not helped when Keizer became the first to be dropped.
The race was all on from 30km to go as the gap was lurking at some 40 seconds and descending. With 22km to go Lake bade adieu to his breakaway companion Gougeard and charged off on his own. It was looking like a bit of a forlorn hope though as the Australian held just 20 seconds in hand; as behind him Drapac and Movistar began to move forward.
Lake wasn’t done yet though as he managed to push his lead back out again to almost a minute with 16km to go. Meanwhile behind him the sprint teams were beginning to mass as Lampre-Merida moved to the front, Dimension Data got in on the act, Team Sky were there; as were FDJ. But they were having their work cut out trying to catch Lake, who gritted his teeth and held on for as long as he could. Cannondale, with Patrick Bevin in the action, were also among those humming close to the front, with Lotto Soudal also showing a slight presence; although Greg Henderson didn’t have a huge amount of help on the front.
Finally the catch was made at 5.8km to go and Lake took his place back in the bunch as the sprinters wound up the pace. Although the pace was positively electric, all riders managed to stay upright as the kilometres ticked down. Heading through 1km to go Team Sky appeared to have the monopoly when it came to positions, but Orica GreenEDGE remained composed; launching Caleb Ewan at the perfect moment with some 150m to go. There was no catching the young Australian who chose his moment perfectly to take the win.
Cannondale appeared to be caught out in the final kilometre, with Patrick Bevin guiding Wouter Wippert for the sprint and playing last lead out man. But after having to shuffle a little to stay upright, Bevin launched Wipper down the left hand side of the road; and his Dutch teammate put in a terrific surge of pace to come from way down and finish third behind Mark Renshaw.
Greg Henderson got his Santos Tour Down Under off to a good start. After choosing the left side of the road also Henderson’s power saw him secure a top ten finish behind Jose Joaquin Rojas of Movistar.
Elsewhere Kiwis George Bennett of LottoNL-Jumbo and Jesse Sergent of AG2R La Mondiale both came home safe in the bunch at the same time as Ewan.