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GEELONG, Australia (CT) – Jay McCarthy (Bora-Hansgrohe) didn’t have the Santos Tour Down Under he was hoping for. He’d gone to Adelaide with ambitions of winning the race overall but, after showing promising signs on Willunga Hill, he had to settle for 19th overall.
But today, in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, the Queenslander made amends for the frustrations of a week earlier, sprinting to the first one-day WorldTour victory of his career.
“It was a little bit disappointing at Tour Down Under … I felt like I probably deserved more out of it but at the same time I know I gave it everything,” McCarthy said. “And then coming in today as the last race in the Australian summer I felt like I’ve had a pretty consistent time [at Cadel’s Race]. To finish off with a win — I couldn’t ask for much more.”
McCarthy was part of an elite lead group that broke clear of the peloton on the final of four ascents of the brutally steep Challambra Crescent in suburban Geelong. There were near-constant attacks from that group in the 9km to the finish, including a solo dig by Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) which ended with 700 metres to go.
But the lead group reformed each time and was eventually caught by the peloton just as McCarthy was launching his sprint. As McCarthy dashed to victory, Viviani came from the reduced peloton behind, skirted around the riders in front and jagged second place. Tour Down Under winner Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) crossed the line third, having been in the lead group with McCarthy.
It wasn’t just the frustration of his GC placing at Tour Down Under that motivated McCarthy today. He was able to learn from his sprinting in Adelaide as well.
“I felt a couple of times last week I missed the jump and I know I can hold my power pretty well in a sprint,” the 25-year-old said. “So I knew if I could get the kick … and with the way the wind was blowing today — a bit of a cross off the water — and the little bit of a chicane in the finish there with 300 to go, I knew if I could kick from there and drift it should be alright.”
McCarthy had been concerned about being caught by the peloton behind, and with good reason. That group contained fast finishers like defending champion Nikias Arndt (Sunweb), Steele von Hoff (KordaMentha Australia) and, of course, Viviani.
But a well-timed kick, and some thoughtful preparation, helped McCarthy hold off Viviani and his other rivals.
“He was coming fast but I knew that he also would have had to start his sprint early,” McCarthy said of Viviani. “Looking out the window the last few days — my balcony of the hotel looks over the finish line — I knew coming in if it was going to be a small kick where I needed to go and I went there.”
Viviani had come into the race confident of his form, but also with the knowledge that he might not make it over Challambra Crescent four times with the leaders.
“We had a tactic this morning to give a free [role] to [Dries] Devenyns because he come out from a good shape from Tour Down Under — he finished fifth in GC,” Viviani said. “Also we are not sure I pass the climb. I am in good condition but it’s quite a hard race this one.”
Coming into the final 10km, QuickStep Floors were in a strong position. Devenyns had made it to the lead group of nine and Viviani was in the reduced peloton behind. With faster-finishers like Impey, Gerrans and McCarthy in the lead-group with Devenys, Viviani and his teammate Eros Capechhi tried everything to bridge across from the peloton in the closing kilometres.
“Capecchi is always with me, [trying] to close the gap but … every sprinter have a maximum one rider [in the peloton],” Viviani said. “So when Sunweb finished the job at 2km-3km to go Capecchi tried to close the gap and then Sky with [Salvatore] Puccio …
“But yeah when I see 500 meter [to go] I say ‘OK, I try to come back in the first group and then try to do my sprint or nothing.’”
With the lead group and the peloton about to make contact, Viviani surged across and continued on towards the line.
“I tried to go straight from the back with double speed but they have already started sprinting,” Viviani said. “When I pass [Simon] Gerrans I started thinking ‘Maybe I can do it before the line’ but McCarthy come from the left side really quick.
“He have one bike [length] on the line so I can’t close this gap and I can’t go early. So yeah, nothing to do. I do my best and the team work really well.”
As he looks forward to bigger targets later in the year, Viviani is happy with his form. But, ultimately, he’ll leave Geelong frustrated at such a close result.
“This is the race I really like to try to win,” he said. “So sometimes when you see me lose some bunch sprints [it’s] for that because this is the race I really want to work for, [to] try to win. This one and [Milan-] San Remo.
“[There’s] not a lot of WorldTour classics I can win and for sure [to] go close like that — I’m really disappointed.”
How it unfolded
No sooner had the flag dropped to start the race than five riders were attacking from the peloton of 106 riders. In temperatures reaching 40ºC, Pavel Kotchetkov (Katusha-Alpecin), Alex Porter and Sam Welsford (KordaMentha Australia), Lasse Norman Hansen (Aqua Blue Sport) and Robbert De Greef (Roompot) were let go by the peloton and built a lead that peaked at nearly seven minutes.
Mitchelton-Scott and QuickStep Floors did most of the pace-making on the front of the peloton while, out front, Hansen was riding his way into the KOM jersey and Kotchetkov was snagging points for the sprinter’s prize. Bora-Hansgrohe and Sunweb helped with the chasing as the race hit the outskirts of Geelong.
De Greef and Welsford were dropped from the break on the first of four ascents of Challambra Crescent leaving just three out front. With about 30km to go, and with the gap down to 2:25, Porter was dropped from the lead, leaving just Kotchetkov and Hansen in the lead. The pair was caught soon after starting the final of three laps around Geelong, setting the scene for an intriguing battle on the final ascent of Challambra Crescent.
Former winner Peter Kennaugh (Bora-Hansgrohe) drove a hard pace towards the top of the climb, thinning out what remained of the peloton considerably. At the top of the climb just nine riders had survived: McCarthy, Daniel Oss (Bora-Hansgrohe), Impey, Simon Gerrans (BMC), Pierre Latour (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Chaves, Bennett, Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Devenyns.
Over the remaining nine kilometres Oss proved vital in helping the group to stay away and then to neutralise attacks from Latour, Bennett and ultimately Chaves. From there it was left to McCarthy to launch his sprint and take his second win as a professional. In doing so he became the first Australian man to win the now-four-year-old Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
The Australian summer of racing concludes next week with the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.