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MOE, Australia (CT) – Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) has lived up to his billing as pre-race favourite on stage 2 of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, winning the day from a small group sprint.
Ewan hit the line first ahead of second-placed Tanner Putt (UnitedHealthcare), on the same time, while overall leader Peter Kennaugh (Sky) was third, three seconds behind. Chris Froome (Sky) and Jack Bobridge (Trek-Segafredo) were fourth and fifth respectively, rounding out a group of five that had approached the finish line together.
A heavily reduced peloton had been together until a short rise some 7km from the stage finish in Moe. At that point Jack Bobridge put in a hard attack, splintering the field and creating the final selection.
“Near the top I knew Kennaugh and Bobridge would be super-strong … so I couldn’t really let them get away,” Ewan said of that final, uncategorised climb. “So I jumped on them and held on for my life really.”
While the final result might have been what many expected — another victory for rising star Caleb Ewan — the stage was far from a regulation sprint stage. The lead changed hands several times throughout the day, and the three categorised climbs served to split the peloton.
“It was much tougher than the usual sprint finishes I’ve been used to this summer,” Caleb Ewan said post-win. “The team rode awesome today — they kept me out of trouble and kept me near the front on all the climbs. I struggled through the middle climbs and luckily they kept me at the front near this last climb and it was actually harder than I expected.
“It’s a massive confidence boost knowing that in the harder stages I can still be strong enough to be there and win the sprint.”
By finishing ahead of the peloton, Peter Kennaugh extends his lead in the overall classification. The Manxman now leads the race by 13 seconds ahead of his teammate Froome, with Jack Bobridge is third, 18 seconds behind Froome. Jack Haig (Orica-GreenEdge) is fourth, another 17 seconds in arrears.
How it unfolded
It was an aggressive start in Yarra Glen as the riders began the 144km stage. While several small groups formed in the early kilometres, it took roughly 20km for the first serious move to get clear. Jack Bobridge broke clear on his own but was never allowed a gap of more than 30 seconds.
The Australian national road champion took out the first intermediate sprint after 33.7km but was soon caught as Chris Harper (State of Matter MAAP) and Yuma Koishi (Nippo-Vini Fantini) emerged from the peloton. As that pair started building a lead, Bobridge settled back into the bunch.
With the peloton happy to take it easy, the two leaders built an advantage of just over five minutes by the start of the day’s first categorised climb. Koishi took the maximum points over the top, ahead of Harper, with Chris Froome third from the peloton.
After 55km the two leaders’ advantage peaked at 5:13 but on the slopes of the second climb, some 80km into the race, Harper dropped Koishi and powered on alone. Harper took the maximum KOM points ahead of Koishi with Ben Dyball (KordaMentha Australia) and Michael Storer (KordaMentha Australia) taking the remaining points on offer.
With some aggression in the bunch on the second climb, lead by Avanti, Harper’s lead was slowly whittled away. At the start of the third and final climb, after 92km of racing, Harper was just 2:10 ahead with the peloton closing in fast.
With less than 50km to race, and the day’s three climbs completed, Neil van der Ploeg (Avanti IsoWhey) attacked from the peloton as Chris Harper’s day out front came to an end. After a short stint in the lead, van der Ploeg was joined by former teammate Jason Christie (Kenyan Riders Down Under) and Cameron Bayly (Attaque-Team Gusto).
The three leaders had an advantage of one minute with 34km still to race. But with Orica-GreenEdge keen for a sprint, and Sky keen to preserve Peter Kennaugh’s lead, the trio’s advantage wasn’t destined to last long.
With 20km to go the gap was to 31 seconds and when the leaders crossed the finish line to begin a 15km closing lap, Jason Christie punched off the front in a bid for solo victory.
Despite a spirited performance, the New Zealand national champion was caught as Sky and Orica-GreenEdge continued to drive the pace in a significantly thinned-down peloton. A short rise with 7km to go helped to split the peloton even further, with just six riders emerging in the front group with 5km to go: Ewan, Jack Haig (Orica-GreenEdge), Chris Froome, Peter Kennaugh, Tanner Putt and the man whose attack forced the split, Jack Bobridge.
Race leader Kennaugh attacked with just outside a kilometre to go but Ewan and Putt were able to follow on the run-in to the line. When it came to the sprint, Ewan proved strongest as expected, taking his eighth victory for the season and his third at UCI level.
The 2016 Jayco Herald Sun Tour continues tomorrow with a 146.2km stage from Traralgon to Inverloch. There are two third-category climbs in the middle of the stage and the potential for strong crosswinds near the coastal finishing town, but in all likelihood the race will end in a bunch sprint.
Peter Kennaugh leads the race overall and goes into the final two stages feeling confident of defending his leader’s jersey. He’s also look forward to the race’s final test on the 3km Arthurs Seat climb.
“I’m quite excited for Sunday’s race to be honest,” Kennaugh said after stage 2. “Hopefully [we] take it up on that climb and either me or Froome I’m sure will be up for trying to go for another stage win.”
Kennaugh also leads the points classification, Chris Hamilton (KordaMentha Australia) continues to lead the best young rider classification and Chris Harper leads the KOM classification.
Herald Sun Tour (2.1) Yarra Glen → Moe