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With a hugely impressive sprint, Ewan turned out to be in a class of his own in the bunch sprint on the first stage of the Tour Down Under, easily holding off Renshaw and Wippert; the young Australian takes the first leader’s jersey

Photo: Sirotti








19.01.2016 @ 12:09 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEDGE) again proved that he is the man of the early season by claiming his first ever stage win in the Tour Down Under when the 2016 WorldTour kicked off with a flat stage. After Daryl Impey had done a great job to keep him near the front, the Australian was in a class of his own in the sprint, easily holding off Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data) and Wouter Wippert (Cannondale) and taking the first leader’s jersey in the race.


When he lined for the first race in the Bay Crits on January 1, Caleb Ewan was very cautious, claiming that he didn’t know where his condition was as he prepared himself for a big Australian summer. Fast forward 18 days, the huge sprint talent has proved that he will be one to watch throughout 2016 by taking 7 wins in just 8 days of racing.


After he won Sunday’s People’s Choice Classic, the first big test for the WorldTour riders in 2016, Ewan was marked out as the heavy favourite for today’s opening stage of the Tour Down Under, the first WorldTour race of the year. Orica-GreenEDGE accepted the favourite tag, led the race all day, and when it came down to the expected bunch sprint, Ewan delivered on his promises by underlining his status as clearly the fastest rider at the moment.


Michael Hepburn had led the race all day to bring back the early three-rider break until he swung off with 15km to go when Sean Lake (UniSA) was the only rider still up the road. The former rower was doing a good job to maintain a 55-second advantage but was starting to tire in the general ascending section.


When Hepburn disappeared, there was some confusion as no team was really willing to commit to the chase, with most sprint teams making sure that they stayed attentive near the front. Lampre-Merida, Trek, FDJ and Ag2r were among the teams to show themselves, with Tsgabu Grmay leading the peloton for a while until Luke Durbridge came to the fore for Orica-GreenEDGE.


Durbridge took a big turn until 13km remained and brought the gap down to 35 seconds before he disappeared too. The hesitation was still obvious as the teams were just keeping themselves positioned near the front. That allowed Mathew Hayman to quickly return to the peloton after a bike change where he had received a wheel from teammate Hepburn.


Durbridge came back for a final turn and had brought the gap down to 25 seconds when he led the peloton into the headwind and onto the downhill section towards the finish with 10km to. The pace was now gradually being upped and riders started to sit up while the sprint teams prepared themselves for the lead-out.


Lampre-Merida was the first team to really take control with 7km to go and they brought Lake back with 5.8km to go ot set the scene for the expected bunch sprint. With a headwind blowing strongly, the lead-out trains were all patient, waiting on the front before they started their effort.


Sky was a constant presence on the right hand side of the road, with Salvatore Puccio and Ian Stannard working hard to keep Ben Swift positioned. Meanwhile, Orica-GreenEDGE slowly returned to the front, with Durbridge lining up their train next to the Sky riders.


Sky were the ones to break the ceasefire with 2.5km to go when Stannard took control and strung out the peloton. They got some welcome help from Tyler Farrer (Dimension Data) who took a huge turn until 1.5km remained when Peter Kennaugh took over for the British team, followed by teammates Geraint Thomas, Luke Rowe and Swift. Ewan’s lead-out man Daryl Impey was doing a great job to keep his sprinter out of the wind just behind the British train.


Kennaugh ended his turn just after the flamme rouge when Thomas kicked into action. Mark Renshaw, Greg Henderson (Lotto Soudal) and Ewan were lined out behind whil Thomas continud to ride on the front.


Just as he prepared himself to do the lead-out, Rowe was anticipated by Adam Blythe (Tinkoff) who hit out early. Ewan reacted swiftly with a first acceleration, waiting patiently in the wheels until he went full gas. When he dropped the hammer, he proved to be in a class of his own, easily holding off Renshaw and Wouter Wippert.


With the win, Ewan scored 10 bonus seconds which is enough to take the overall lead. He now has a 4-second advantage over Renshaw in second as he heads into the second stage. It has a tough uphill start but most of the stage takes place on the well-known, hilly circuit around Stirling. Here the riders will do five laps before they are expected to sprint it out on the tough slope to the finish where the puncheurs are expected to shine.


A flat opener

The 2016 Tour Down Under kicked off with a 130.8km stage from Prospect to Lyndoch. The first 12.8km were all uphill, leading to the only KOM sprint of the stage but from there the terrain was mainly flat. Most of it consisted of three laps of a flat 26.8km circuit where the sprinters were expected to shine.


It was a brutally hot and rather windy day when the 140 riders gathered for the WorldTour opener and apparently the heat took away some of the motivation. It took more than 2km for the first attack to be launched and when Lake, Martijn Keizer (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r) accelerated, they were immediately allowed to get clear.


Lake takes the KOM jersey

Orica-GreenEDGE took their position on the front with Hepburn setting the pace while the front trio climbed towards the only KOM of the day. Here Lake managed to beat Keizer and Gougeard to become the first KOM leader of the race before Hepburn led the peloton across the lined 2.10 later.


The gap went out to 2.30 while Hepburn continued to set the pace but that was as much as they would get. As they entered the final 100km, the gap had already dropped to 1.20 as the pace was rather slow in the very hot conditions.


Sprint win for Gougeard

The gap slowly went out to 2.15 before Lake led the front trio across the finish line for the first time with around 80km remaining. When Gougeard beat Keizer and Lake in the first intermediate sprint at the 59.6km mark, the gap was down to 1.42.


The yo-yoing continued as the leaders saw their advantage drop to 1.10 at a time when Durbridge started to work with Hepburn in the peloton and with 65km to go, it was even down to less than a minute. That allowed the peloton to relax a bit and the gap had again gone out to 1.25 as the peloton crossed the finish line for the second time.


Keizer is dropped

Durbridge disappeared and left it to Hepburn to set the pace as they entered the final 50km and were tackling the uphill first part of the finishing circuit. Gougeard beat Lake and Keizer in the final intermediate sprint before Keizer who had been struggling for some time, was dropped with 42km to go.


The leading pair managed to extend their advantage to 1.50 as they entered the final 40km but during the next 10km, the peloton accelerated significantly as the fight for position started. Hepburn was still riding on the front and had cut down the gap to 39 seconds with 30km to go.


The leaders again had a minute when they started the final lap of the 25.8km mark and 3km later Lake decided that he wanted to do it alone. The Australian dropped Gougeard but only had a 20-second advantage as he entered the final 20km. He managed to increase it to 55 seconds before Hepburn swung off and set the scene for the finale.



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