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Jack Bobridge (UniSA-Australia) has won the opening stage of the 2015 Santos Tour Down Under after escaping from a stage-long, four-rider breakaway in sight of the finish line in Campbelltown this afternoon.
The breakaway was established in the opening kilometre of the race when Lieuwe Westra (Astana) broke clear of the peloton and was joined by Bobridge, Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEdge) and Maxim Belkov (Katusha).
Despite it being a stage that looked certain for a bunch sprint, and despite being within 15 seconds of being caught by the peloton with 13.3km to go, the quartet held off the chasing bunch to register a surprise victory. Westra was second while Durbridge rounded out the podium.
ADELAIDE, Australia (CT) – The 132.6km stage began in the the town of Tanunda in South Australia’s Barossa Valley, taking in two laps of a 32km circuit through the famous wine region before heading south and then south-west towards Adelaide.
After coming together in the opening kilometres, the four escapees set about building an advantage over the main field which grew to 2:40 just before the first intermediate sprint of the day in Bethany after 32km. Bobridge took the five sprint points and three bonus seconds on offer while Westra was second (three points, two seconds) and Belkov was third (two points, one second).
In the peloton, Sky and Giant-Alpecin were taking responsibility for the chase while BMC brought a rider up to lend a hand as well.
The gap never got beyond 2:40 with the teams of the sprinters working hard to ensure that the opening stage of the race would finish in a bunch kick. The gap gradually started coming down, and by the time the four leaders reached the second intermediate sprint after 60km, also in Bethany, their lead was just 1:35.
Durbridge was first through the sprint point, followed by Belkov and Westra.
As the race made its way south towards Adelaide, the peloton kept the four leaders comfortably in check. After 77km of racing, and with a little less than 50km to go, the gap was down to 50 seconds. The gap came down even further, dropping to 35 seconds as the riders reached Williamstown with 40km remaining in the stage.
But with the four leaders working hard together out front, the gap expanded to beyond a minute again on the approach to the day’s only categorised climb: the second-category Checker Hill which peaked with 28.5km left in the stage.
The four riders hit the base of the 1.6km climb together, working their way through an eerie landscape charred by recent bushfires. In the final few hundred metres of the climb Jack Bobridge pounced, and only Durbridge was able to respond. Bobridge crossed the KOM line first, taking the maximum 10 points on offer, followed by Durbridge (six points) and, a few seconds later by Westra (four points) and Belkov (two points).
Bobridge and Durbridge continued over the top alone, followed by Westra and Belkov while further down the road, the main field was being torn apart by the steep climb.
Westra and Belkov made contact with Durbridge and Bobridge with 26.3km to go and the gap was 1:15 to the main field. IAM Cycling had a rider at the front of the main field driving the pace, as too did Sky.
With 22km to go the hard work of the main field saw the breakaway riders’ advantage slashed to just 24 seconds, despite great cooperation from the lead quartet. On the famously scenic Gorge Road the four leaders had their advantage slashed to just 15 seconds with 13.3km remaining. A sprint finish looked all but certain.
But as the race twisted and turned its way towards the finish in Campbelltown, the advantage swung back in the direction of the four leaders, not least because of the local knowledge of Bobridge and Durbridge.
“I couldn’t even count how many times I’ve been along them roads. I’ve lived on them, trained on them my whole career,” Bobridge said after the stage. “I think today, with the cat-and-mouse game between the peloton and the breakaway, [local knowledge] was a massive advantage for sure.”
With 10km left to race the gap was back out to 25 seconds and with 8km remaining Etixx-Quick-Step had the peloton strung right out, chasing desperately to catch the escapees.
But on the largely downhill approach to the finish it seemed that the peloton had left the chase too late. Mark Renshaw told CyclingTips after the race that a lack of information about the time gap hindered his team’s chase.
“There was a lot of confusion — one minute we saw that break, the next minute …”, Renshaw told CyclingTips. “We didn’t have any radio communication really in the final so we missed the win.”
The final today wasn't really what we expected with such a strong breakaway staying away. In the end it was all about saving the GC here.
— Marcel Kittel (@marcelkittel) January 20, 2015
With 5.5km left to race the gap had blown back out to 40 seconds. Etixx-Quick-Step continued to drive the pace with one Giant-Alpecin rider lending a hand but it seemed likely at this point that the four leaders were going to steal an unlikely victory.
Some 3km before the finish the gap was still 40 seconds and the question became not, “will the peloton be caught?” but “who’s got the best sprint of the four leaders?”
Maxim Belkov attacked hard with 1.6km to go, opening up a small gap, but he was soon caught by Durbridge and then Bobridge and Westra. One kilometre from the finish all cooperation between the four leaders evaporated completely. They looked at each and at the road behind, where the Etixx-Quick-Step-led peloton was closing fast. But not fast enough.
Bobridge made his move with 250m to go, punching off the back of the lead group and opening a small gap. He said after the race that he’d learned his lesson from the road race at the Australia Road Nationals a week earlier, when he was in a similar situation coming into the finish.
“The week before in the road nationals I … probably went too early — if I look back now — with 500m to go. I didn’t want to make that mistake today,” Bobridge said.
“But sitting on the back of them guys and seeing that bunch coming at us at 100 mile an hour, I had to be pretty calm. I played it perfect today and timed it to perfection.”
In a desperate dash for the line the South Australian managed to hold off his breakaway companions and the fast-finishing peloton, all of whom finished with the same time. The win is Bobridge’s first at the Santos Tour Down Under and with it comes the ochre jersey of the overall race leader.
“I’ve been here five times … but to actually pull a stage off, and the first stage, to wear the ochre jersey tomorrow, is one of my dreams come true,” Bobridge said. “Being South Australian, on home soil, I don’t think it can get any better.”
Bobridge came into the Santos Tour Down Under hoping for a good hit-out before his attempt at the world hour record on January 31, but will his efforts to defend the ochre jersey leave him too fatigued to give the record his best shot?
“I’ve raced this race full-gas before, every stage, and I have been tired for a week after,” Bobridge said. “But the way I look at it, if you’re in the leader’s jersey here there’s no [choice] but to defend it.”
“We’ll obviously have to see what plays out for the rest of the week. I’ll go 110% to defend [the overall lead] with the guys here and then next week I guess it’s all about the best recovery strategy possible going into the hour”.
Bobridge also leads the sprint classification going into stage 2 (although Lieuwe Westra will wear the jersey tomorrow) as well as the KOM classification (Belkov will wear the polka dots). Luke Durbridge was crowned the most competitive rider and the best young rider.
Bobridge’s victory also sees UniSA-Australia lead the teams classification. UniSA-Australia team manager Dave Sanders said after the race that the plan had been to get a rider in the breakaway to chase bonus seconds. The plan only grew from there.
“[We went in the break] with the hope of bonus points from the [sprint] classifications, which we did, and then hopefully chase the KOM jersey, which we did,” Sanders said.
“And then there’s a slim chance, when there’s a downhill run into the finish, if they give you a bit of rope and you gas it for that last 15km, there’s a chance of staying away.
“We discussed that and they timed it right and tucked the ears back and got there. I’m pretty happy with that effort.”
Stage 2 of the 2015 Santos Tour Down Under takes the riders 150.5km from the Adelaide suburb of Unley to the town of Stirling in the Adelaide Hills. It’s a lumpy stage with an early climb up the Basket Range and uphill finish that will suit the fast-finishers who can handle the uphill grades.
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