2014 Santos Tour Down Under — People’s Choice Classic

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The People’s Choice Classic criterium mightn’t officially be part of the Santos Tour Down Under but that doesn’t mean the big hitters don’t come out to play. This year’s Classic, held on a new 2km circuit on the banks of the River Torrens, looked like it was going to go the way of Lotto-Belisol’s speedster Andre Greipel – for the third time year in a row – but a desperate lunge for the line saw Marcel Kittel take the win.

The Santos Festival of Cycling kicked off earlier in the evening with the first round of the Santos Women’s Cup, raced over 35 minutes plus two laps on the new 2km circuit just north of Adelaide’s CBD. Orica-AIS were the team to beat with nine riders on the startlist and they showed their depth and talent by being in all the notable moves.

After being part of a four-rider break that was neutralised by the main field, Orica-AIS’s Loes Gunnewijk launched a solo breakaway a little over halfway through the race. Despite the best efforts of Bridie O’Donnell (Total Rush-Hyster), no-one was able to bridge to Gunnewijk and the Dutchwoman powered away to an impressive solo victory.

Back in the peloton Orica-AIS set up a lead-out for Mel Hoskins who took second while Nettie Edmondson rounded out an all-Orica-AIS podium.

TDU Peoples Choice Crit

It took just two laps in the People’s Choice Classic for the first break of the day to get itself organised. Four riders — Australia’s Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp), Italian Luca Wackermann (Lampre-Merida) and French pair Axel Domont (AG2R La Mondiale) and Anthony Roux (FDJ.fr) — set off in search of the sprint primes, all of which were taken by Haas.

Back in the main field a crash saw Movistar’s Giovanni Visconti taken to hospital with a compound fracture to his right tibia. The Italian will undergo surgery tonight to have a rod inserted into his leg.

The day’s break was wrapped up with five of the race’s 25 laps remaining and with the finish fast approaching Orica-GreenEDGE recruit Mathew Hayman attempted a solo breakaway. The move was short-lived with his former team Sky pegging him back before turning up the heat for their Aussie sprinter, Chris Sutton.

With the 135+ rider peloton strung out along the narrow course, Lotto-Belisol came to the front with two laps to go, the defending champion Andre Greipel sitting comfortably at the back of the team’s lead-out train. And when the last lap rolled around Greipel looked to be in the box seat.

He rolled out of his teammate’s slipstream and powered towards the line. With 50m to go he looked to have it won. But as he so often does, Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) timed his run perfectly, edging ahead of Greipel by mere inches as the two Germans crossed the line.

Behind them it was the Aussie young-gun Caleb Ewan in third, riding in the green and gold of the UniSA/Australian National team. Ewan has started his season off in stirring fashion, winning the final stage of the Bay Crits, finishing that four-race meet in third overall, and then going on to win both the criterium and the road race in the U23 men’s races at the Australian National Road Championships.

With a third place behind two of the best sprinters in the world (and, crucially, ahead of the likes of Chris Sutton, Jose Rojas, Julian Alaphilippe, Mark Renshaw, Elia Viviani and elite men’s criterium champion Steele von Hoff), Ewan showed he can mix it with the very best fastmen in the world. And he’s still only 19.

Ewan’s soon-to-be-teammate Matt Goss spoke before the race about the People’s Choice Classic being a good chance for the sprinters to test their legs ahead of the official start of the Santos Tour Down Under on Tuesday. Goss will be hoping his 109th place in the Classic (nearly two minutes back) isn’t a sign of things to come.

But if there’s one thing we’ve learnt from the past few editions of the TDU, it’s that the sprinters who dominate in the Classic tend to do well come the official start of the Tour Down Under.

Andre Greipel won the Classic in 2012 and went on to win three stages of the six-stage TDU. He did exactly the same last year. Kittel’s lunge for the line in this year’s race thwarted a three-peat for Greipel and arguably set the tone for the week ahead.

Could Kittel, who won four stages at the Tour de France last year, be the rider to beat on the flat stages at this year’s Santos Tour Down Under?

Follow the link for full results from the 2014 People’s Choice Classic at the Santos Tour Down Under.

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