James Whelan solos to stage 1 win at the Santos Festival of Cycling

After being dropped from the WorldTour, Whelan has been out to prove a point this summer.

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James Whelan (BridgeLane) has ridden to an emphatic victory on stage 1 of the Santos Festival of Cycling in Adelaide.

Whelan, who was forced to step down to the Continental level in 2022 after three years in the WorldTour, was part of a large breakaway that formed from a series of attacks throughout the 114 km stage from Stirling to Lobethal.

Whelan made his move from the lead group with a little less than 20 km remaining in the stage, and quickly built an unbeatable lead. He ultimately crossed the line 1:23 ahead of his teammate Matt Dinham who won the sprint in the chase group for second. Ben Hill took third.

The day began with a large breakaway of 16 riders formed from a flurry of early moves. When newly crowned Australian champion Luke Plapp (Garmin-Australia) increased the pace in the bunch with around 50 km to go, the gap was close to two minutes but it would soon be falling.

A short time later a small group forged clear of a thinned down peloton, featuring Whelan, defending champion Luke Durbridge (BikeExchange-Jayco), Chris Harper (Villawood/Jumbo-Visma), Kane Richards (ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) and Carter Turnbull (Inform TMX Make). They would eventually made contact with the front of the race.

With 30 km to, Plapp surged clear of the peloton once more, setting off in search of the break. Up ahead, Durbridge was trying to get clear of the break but wasn’t able to make any significant progress.

With 19.2 km to go, just as Plapp was making contact with the leaders, Whelan punched away from the front of the same group. It would end up being the winning move.

Whelan’s win comes a couple weeks after a similarly impressive solo effort at the Australian Road Nationals. Whelan led solo for several laps late but had to settle for silver after being caught by Plapp in the closing kilometres. The Victorian had come into the summer of cycling “crazy-motivated” after being unable to find a WorldTour ride in 2022.

Whelan will take a handy lead into the two remaining stages of the Festival of Cycling – a National Road Series-level replacement for the COVID-affected Tour Down Under.

Stage result

GC

Update: After the stage Whelan was docked a minute from his overall time for drafting from his team car early in the stage.

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