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by Matt de Neef
January 19, 2016
Photography by Tim Bardsley-Smith
ADELAIDE, Australia (CT) – Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) has won the opening stage of the 2016 Santos Tour Down Under, sprinting to an impressive victory in Lyndoch ahead of fellow Australian Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data) and Dutchman Wouter Wippert (Cannondale).
Ewan benefited from another clinical supporting ride from his Orica-GreenEdge teammates, the 21-year-old biding his time in the peloton before dashing to the second WorldTour victory of his career.
“I felt good all day and they [Orica-GreenEdge] backed me right from the start,” an appreciative Ewan said after the stage. “Michael Hepburn and Luke Durbridge were on the front all day and even Durbo came back in the end, in the last 4km, and did a super-strong turn.
“Those guys were super-impressive.”
Ewan now has six victories from the eight races he’s done in 2016 but today’s win is by far the biggest. Only his stage win at last year’s Vuelta a España is more significant in the context of his young career, but today’s win is important to Ewan for a different reason.
“It’ll be a really proud moment for me to race in the ochre jersey tomorrow,” he said. “I’ve never led a WorldTour race before and to do it in my own country means a lot to me.”
The opening stage of the 2016 Tour Down Under began in the Adelaide suburb of Prospect as 140 riders rolled across the startline in hot and breezy conditions. Their destination was the town of Lyndoch in the Barossa Valley, South Australia’s world-famous wine-producing region.
The first attack of the day came from UniSA-Australia’s Sean Lake and Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r La Mondiale) with Martijn Keizer (LottoNL-Jumbo) quickly bridging across to make it three out front. It took just 7.5km for the trio to build a lead of one minute and 12km for that lead to extend to beyond two minutes.
The day’s only KOM came just 12.8km into the stage and it was Sean Lake that punched off the front to take the 10 points and secure the polka dot jersey for the UniSA-Australia team. Keizer was second (six points), Gougeard was third (four points) and Michael Hepburn (Orica-GreenEdge) was fourth (two points), cresting the climb at the head of the peloton.
With Orica-GreenEdge doing most of the pacemaking, the gap dropped to 1:10 after 26km but it would gradually extend back out to beyond two minutes after 35km.
The race reached the town of Lyndoch for the first time after 50.1km as the riders embarked on three laps of a 26.9km circuit. At that stage the leaders had two minutes over the peloton but that lead wouldn’t last for long.
At the first intermediate sprint, after 59.6km, it was Gougeard that took the maximum five sprint points (and three bonus seconds) while Keizer took three points (two seconds) and Lake took two points (one second).
Having controlled the peloton for more or less the entire race, Orica-GreenEdge started to increase the tempo with a little more than half of the 130km stage remaining. The gap to the leaders quickly dropped to a minute with 65km still to race.
Light rain was falling in Lyndoch when the riders came through with 53.8km and two laps of the finishing circuit to go, but the temperature was still hovering at an uncomfortable 35ºC. At that stage, Lake, Gougeard and Keizer were 1:20 ahead of the Orica-GreenEdge-led bunch, with both groups riding a slower-than-expected pace in the warm temperatures.
Gougeard took the second and final intermediate sprint with 44.4km to go, beating Lake and Keizer. A few kilometres up the road Keizer popped, leaving just Gougeard and Lake at the head of affairs. Still Orica-GreenEdge led the peloton with Michael Hepburn ensuring a steady pace.
At the start of the final lap, with 26.9km to go, the two leaders had one minute over the chasing peloton. Gougeard dropped from the lead group with 23km still to race, leaving former rower Sean Lake out front on his own.
“I think being an Aussie definitely gave me an advantage there having been in the heat all summer,” Lake said, referring to the warm conditions. “I saw the other two guys were just sweating heaps and had salt all over their clothes and they were just really struggling. So it gave me the opportunity.”
“It was a shame the peloton was keeping it really close … so that when it was time for me to go I only had 50 seconds, which is never going to be enough,” Lake continued. “It was worth a shot anyway.”
With the pace increasing in the peloton, Lake had a lead of 35 seconds with 10km left to race. And despite his best efforts, the two-time Grafton to Inverell winner would eventually be caught 5.8km from the line, as the teams of the sprinters readied themselves for the final dash.
Team Sky was particularly active in the closing kilometres, setting up a lead-out for the aptly named Ben Swift. But with light rain falling and a headwind blowing at the finish line, Caleb Ewan found the wheel of Mark Renshaw before sprinting out of the Dimension Data rider’s slipstream with less than 150 metres to go. He would go on to win the stage by more than two bike lengths, ensuring he’ll be the one to beat in the race’s two remaining sprint finishes (stages 4 and 6).
The Tour Down Under continues tomorrow with a 132km stage from Unley to Stirling which ends with five laps of a challenging 21.4km circuit. The uphill drag to the line tends to suit fast-finishers that are also able to climb, including Simon Gerrans.
Caleb Ewan will wear the leader’s ochre jersey but will likely play second-fiddle to his more experienced teammate tomorrow.
“I don’t really have any ambitions to keep the jersey,” Ewan said after the stage. “We’re going for the overall with Simon [Gerrans]. I don’t know what the plan is for tomorrow but I’m sure it will be for him to get a few seconds.”
Mark Renshaw will wear the red sprinter’s jersey in lieu of classification leader Caleb Ewan, while Alexis Gougeard will wear the green best young rider’s jersey, also in lieu of Ewan. Sean Lake will wear the blue polka dots of the KOM jersey.