Andre Greipel dug deep to sprint to his 18th Santos Tour Down Under stage win ahead of Caleb Ewan and Peter Sagan, but the overall win belonged to South Africa for the first time. Daryl Impey of Mitchelton-Scott secured the GC win ahead of Richie Porte and Tom-Jelte Slagter with George Bennett finishing 11th overall.
The final stage of the Santos Tour Down Under got underway in near perfect sunny conditions in Adelaide. The 90km circuit race would take in 20 laps of the 4.5km circuit with sprints on laps 8 and 12 to potentially gain bonus seconds. These would be potentially crucial as far as the GC battle was concerned with Daryl Impey of Mitchelton-Scott in the ochre jersey, starting the day level on time with 2nd placed Richie Porte of BMC Racing. Positions 4-7 all started level on time with Robert Gesink and George Bennett of LottoNL-Jumbo beginning the day in a group of 9 all on 24 seconds adrift as well.
After early skirmishes which featured Alex Frame of Trek-Segafredo, the break of the day established and gained a highly surprising advantage. Dimension Data’s Ben O’Connor – a former winner of the New Zealand Cycle Classic – was joined at the front of the race by EF Education First-Drapac’s Logan Owen, and the two of them built a substantial lead over the break which is highly surprising given the nature of the final stage.
With more than half the race covered the two leaders had a big lead and with 13 of the 20 laps taken on the duo’s lead was sitting at 2.19mins. Eventually though Mitchelton-Scott and BMC Racing took up pace setting duties on the front of the race and with 5 laps to go their advantage had dropped to 1.30mins, and further to 1 minute approaching 3 laps to go.
As the riders went through 17 of their 20 laps the breakaway halved with Logan Owen the final rider able to keep pace at the front as Ben O’Connor drifted back to the pack. Thomas De Gendt of LottoNL-Jumbo led the bunch through at a solid 45kph down Adelaide’s city streets. On his wheel were Mitchelton-Scott who were putting in the hard yards to guarantee the ochre jersey and a first ever South African GC win at the Tour Down Under.
Still the time gap dropped as the kilometres ticked away. Owen led through for lap 18 of 20 but by now the peloton had him comfortably in their sights; and it seemed to cause the pack to relax just a little; knowing that the catch was imminent. While the peloton might have been a bit relaxed by appearance though, the jostling for position was on with Andre Greipel and Peter Sagan taking their places at the front of the race.
Finally Owen was caught and from here the race for the finish was on. It was in the sprinters’ best interests to keep the pace high to deter attacks and they did just that with Mitchelton-Scott continuing to lead the way with the view of not just lining up Impey for the overall win but potentially Caleb Ewan for the stage.
But the other teams weren’t letting them have the stage all their own way. Team Sunweb and Bahriain-Merida were both towards the front and so too were the likes of BORA-Hansgrohe and LottoNL-Jumbo. As the finish line neared UAE Team Emirates and BORA-Hansgrohe looked to have control of the race, but Andre Greipel was poised with a number of riders around him.
Through the 1km to go banner there was not a single lead out train really organised, but Team Sunweb suddenly accelerated forward to try and establish order; as did Quick-Step Floors. It looked like advantage Elia Viviani at this stage, but then BORA-Hansgrohe shot forward with Caleb Ewan suddenly launching off of their train. But Andre Greipel dug very deep to keep the Australian’s wheel and then pass him and edge the win on the line.
Daryl Impey crossed the line to secure the overall title ahead of Richie Porte of BMC Racing and Tom-Jelte Slagter of Dimension Data. George Bennett and Robert Gesink – with time bonuses during the day – found themselves dropped to 11th and 10th places on GC respectively.