ADELAIDE (AUSTRALIA) (AFP) –
Rising Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan defied a heatwave to claim the opening stage of the UCI season-opening Tour Down Under in the South Australian wine-growing town of Lyndoch on Tuesday.
Ewan, 22, surged in the last 200 metres to hold off Dutchman Danny van Poppell and Ireland’s Sam Bennett and win the 118-kilometre stage in three hours, 24 minutes and 18 seconds.
The Orica-Scott rider will wear the ochre leader’s jersey into Wednesday’s second stage over 148.5km from Stirling in the Adelaide Hills to the town of Paracombe.
Officials had earlier decided to shorten the stage from 145 kilometres as temperatures climbed above 40 Celsius during the race.
“It was really stinking hot out there today,” Ewan said.
“I think everyone felt the heat. It was a good idea for the race to be shortened because we were just rolling around out there in the sun and it can’t be too good for you.
“I’m just happy to get that win. It was a really close one in the end.”
The race started in the inner-city Adelaide suburb of Unley with the temperature already reaching 39 Celsius.
Belgian rider Laurens De Vrees launched an early attack but in the scorching conditions as the peloton let him go with no one willing to join him at the front.
De Vrees opened the gap to four-and-a-half minutes at one point but the lead was soon brought back to under two minutes, which remained constant for most of the race.
The Astana rider had was finally swallowed up by the peloton with 19km to go.
Another Belgian, Jan Bakelants from AG2R La Mondiale, attacked and quickly got clear.
Australian Adam Hansen tried to join him but couldn’t cross the gap and the dangerous Bakelants, who won a stage of the 2013 Tour de France using the same tactic, looked like causing an upset.
But the sprinters’ teams came to the front of the peloton and Bakelants was caught with only two kilometres to go.
World champion Peter Sagan led an attack to bring Bennett to the front but Ewan stayed close and with the finish line in sight, he sprinted up the inside to edge van Poppell and Bennett and repeat his opening stage win from 2016.
The young Australian may only wear the leader’s jersey for one day however with Wednesday’s stage to take place in the hills around Adelaide and four-time champion and Orica-Scott teammate Simon Gerrans only eight seconds behind in the overall standings.
Temperatures are forecast to drop dramatically for Wednesday as a cold front moves through the region overnight.
© 2017 AFP