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by Matt de Neef
February 1, 2017
Photography by Con Chronis
MELBOURNE, Australia (CT) – Danny van Poppel (Sky) has taken out the prologue individual time trial at the 2017 Jayco Herald Sun Tour, setting a new course record in the process.
The Dutchman flew around the technical 2.1km course in the heart of Melbourne, crossing the line in a time of 2:32.56 — an average speed of 49.7km/h. Brenton Jones (JLT-Condor) was less than second behind in second place, adding to his third-place finish on the corresponding stage in the 2015 edition. Jones’ teammate Alex Frame was third fastest, a further 10th-of-a-second behind Jones, a week after two stage wins at the New Zealand Cycle Classic.
For van Poppel, the victory comes after several near-misses at the Santos Tour Down Under and Race Melbourne in recent weeks. While the UCI 2.1 Herald Sun Tour isn’t a WorldTour race like the Tour Down Under, van Poppel is still happy to score his first win of the year.
“It’s not the level like Tour Down Under but it’s a victory,” the Dutchman said. “I’m on a good way at the start of the season and I’m ready for the Classics.”
“I’m really happy because you’re always searching for your first victory for the team and for myself and I’m happy that I did it.”
Van Poppel’s win gives him the yellow leader’s jersey heading into tomorrow’s first of four road stages. With two big climbs on the menu though, the sprinter knows he has little chance of being in yellow come this time tomorrow.
“I hope that I can give it tomorrow to Chris [Froome],” van Poppel said of the leader’s jersey. “Tomorrow is a nice day for Chris and the team so we go full for him.
“I think I will be one of the first guys to work for Chris, which is maybe a bit strange with the yellow jersey, but we have some really good climbers, some smaller guys, so they will stay with him.”
Earlier in the evening former New Zealand champion Jason Christie (NZ) was the first rider down the start ramp, setting a time of 2:40. He was quickly bested by Tim Roe (IsoWhey-SwissWellness) with a time only a fraction of a second quicker, before Alex Frame (JLT-Condor) slashed a further seven seconds off Roe’s mark.
Just the 15th of 104 riders down the start ramp, van Poppel (Sky) was the next to set the bar, his time the fastest of the night and one second faster than the course record set by Will Clarke in last year’s event. Van Poppel spent more than an hour in the hot seat before being crowned the winner.
Tomorrow’s stage 1 takes riders 174.2km from the regional centre of Wangaratta in Victoria’s north east to the Falls Creek Alpine Resort. There’s a 7.2km climb up Tawonga Gap a little over halfway through the stage before a 30km stage-ending climb to Falls Creek.
Significant time gaps are expected on this final climb which is expected to play host to an entertaining battle between defending champion Chris Froome (Sky) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott).
“He will be ready,” van Poppel said of his teammate Froome. “I see already that he’s in a good shape. That will be a nice fight with the GreenEdge [Orica-Scott] guys.”