Daryl Impey wins Santos Tour Down Under, Andre Greipel claims final stage

by Matt de Neef

ADELAIDE, Australia (CT) – When it came to predicting a winner of the 2018 Santos Tour Down Under, one name was front of mind for most: defending champion Richie Porte (BMC). Porte did end the tour with the winning time, but he didn’t win the race — instead it was Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott), courtesy of a countback, that would take out the race’s 20th edition.

The race was won for Impey on stage 5’s second ascent of Willunga Hill, with the South African clawing his way to second on the stage and into the ochre jersey. Stage 6, the race’s final stage, was something of a procession, with Impey maintaining his overall lead and Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) winning the stage.

There was the odd moment of intrigue throughout the race. Ruben Guerreiro (Trek-Segafredo) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) both took bonus seconds to finish inside the final top 10, while Ben O’Connor (Dimension Data) was the virtual leader for much of the stage. But in the end stage 6 delivered the bunch finish that most expected.

Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) led into the final metres, but it was Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) that overhauled him to win a record-extending 18th career stage at the race. World champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) finished third.

Greipel started the Tour Down Under well by winning stage 1, and ended it likewise by winning stage 6. But the days in between weren’t as enjoyable for the German.

“There was a lot of suffering in the middle of this race here with the two really hot days,” Greipel said. “For sure it wasn’t healthy. But I’m happy that we could get over it and to have the full strength today again.

“I think it was an exciting sprint and I was lucky enough to be the first one who crossed the line.”

Greipel used his considerable experience to time his sprint to perfection, overhauling Ewan at the last possible moment.

“He came pretty far and fast like a cannonball and it was really hard to chase his back wheel and to pass him as well,” Greipel said. “Of course experience helps — every lap I could see the finish and see also that the wind changed.

“As a team we didn’t want to make the lead-out … just make the position and then of course you need to have the instinct to make the right [moves].”

For Impey, the race was all but won on stage 5, but he still needed to get through the final stage. Doing so today was a relief.

“This morning you think ‘It should all be alright’ but you can never say it’s done until it’s done,” Impey said. “I’m happy that everything was controlled and there were no crashes or anything in the final today. The boys rode really well.”

In 2013 Impey became the first South African to lead the Tour de France. He rates that moment as the greatest in his career, but his Tour Down Under victory — the first South African to achieve that too — is close behind. Indeed, it’s the greatest victory of the 33-year-old’s career.

“I wouldn’t say nothing could top the yellow jersey but that moment was magical — but this is very very close to that,” Impey said. “I worked really hard for this one so it’s fantastic, especially knowing how important it is to the team and the sponsors.

“It was a high-pressure race for us and obviously a lot expected from us, so to finish off with the win — very happy about that.”

How it unfolded

There were many attacks in the opening laps of the 20-lap circuit race but it wasn’t until lap 6 that the first meaningful break came together. Truls Korsaeth (Astana), Logan Owen (EF Education First-Drapac) and Lauren Didier (Trek-Segafredo) got clear and got to roughly a minute clear over the next few laps.

On lap 8, with the first intermediate sprint approaching, Vorsaeth had a mechanical, Didier sat up, and the latter’s teammates ramped up the pace in the peloton. Owen continued alone to take the intermediate sprint, followed by Sanchez and Guerreiro in the bunch. The two-second and one-second time bonuses respectively moved Sanchez into eighth overall (from 17th) and Guerreiro into ninth (from 13th).

Australian Ben O’Connor (Dimension Data) rode across to Owen on lap 9 but over the next few laps, the American wouldn’t pull a turn on the front, seemingly protecting the GC position of his teammate Brendan Canty (21st).

Antoine Duchesne (FDJ) rode in no-man’s-land on his own for a few laps as the two leaders extended their lead to as much as 2:20 by the end of lap 12. With O’Connor in the virtual lead Owen started contributing, but it was all to no avail.

Mitchelton-Scott did most of the work on the front of the bunch, with some assistance from Lotto Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt, and the gap to the leaders slowly eroded.

Duchesne was caught on lap 15, Owen went solo on lap 16, and all the while the peloton was closing in. The race was all back together on lap 18 as the likes of Sunweb, QuickStep and UAE Team Emirates rode the front in anticipation of the sprint.

Ewan hit the front and looked to have the stage won, but a late surge from Greipel was enough to narrowly win the race’s final stage for a fifth time.

Sagan’s third place saw the three-time world champion secure victory in the sprint classification, Nicholas Dlamini (Dimension Data) won the KOM classification, Egan Bernal (Sky) was the best young rider, and Bahrain-Merida won the teams classification.

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