Greipel marks Tour return with emphatic win
German sprint legend Andrew Greipel has picked up where he left off with an emphatic win on the 145 kilometre Stage 1 of the Santos Tour Down Under in the Barossa Valley town of Lyndoch.
“It’s a nice one,” said an elated Greipel after outpacing Australian young gun, Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton Scott) and three time World Champion Peter Sagan (Bora hansgrohe). He crossed the line in a race time of 3.50.21.
“It was a pretty fast sprint but I could wait as long as I wanted, said Greipel, who benefitted from the experience of his team mates who put him in position to unleash the winning burst of speed. “It’s nice to be back here this way after a few years of absence.
It’s the 17th stage win for the Lotto Soudal rider who first stepped onto the Tour podium in Hahndorf in 2008, the same year he won four stages and the first of his two Santos Tour Down Under crowns. He closed out his 2012 appearance with a win on the final stage and has marked his return the same way.
“Because of the heat, the racing isn’t that stressful,” said Greipel of the steady pace set by the peloton for the early stages of the race as the temperature topped 30 degrees. “We were one guy down (non starter Bjorg Lambrecht) but my team set the sprint really well.
“Today, I expected all sprinters’ teams to take their responsibilities for setting up a bunch sprint at the end,” said Greipel but noted his team mate, Thomas De Gendt is ‘happy to ride in front of the peloton’. “He’s begging us to let him lead the bunch.”
“It’s also nice to get the ochre jersey,” said Greipel who wears the Santos Ochre Leader’s into tomorrow’s stage with a four-second time buffer over Ewan and Australian Will Clarke (Education First-Drapac) who was an early protagonist on the stage.
Ewan meantime accepted it wasn’t his day despite being in the right place to challenge for stage honours.
“I’m really happy with how the team worked but at the end of the day, it’s just my fault if I didn’t win,” said Ewan while fourth placed Elia Viviani (QuickStep Floors) was also blaming himself for missing the podium.
“I was not happy with the fourth-place, but I was happy with the lead-out,” said the Italian. “I am new to this team, and this is only our second sprint together, so things are going well (but) I went too early at 200 metres to go and maybe I don’t have the legs to go that early at this time of year.
“We are working well together,” said Viviani. “Last year, I had to wait until Romandie (in April) for the first win, and now we are already getting closer. We have more chances this week.”
Sagan’s team director Patxi Vila says he’s happy with the form of the reigning world champion.
“It was a messy sprint, downhill, with a tail-crosswind, very fast,” said Vila. “It’s not the ideal kind of sprint for Peter, so we are happy.
“Peter is showing he is already strong at this point of the season. When you have riders like Greipel and Ewan here, Peter has no pressure to win.
“We have to be happy with how the first big sprints of the season have gone,” said Vila. “Tomorrow is a hard circuit, so maybe we can try something with Jay [McCarthy].”
The Santos Tour Down Under returned to Port Adelaide for the first time since the 1999 inaugural event for today’s start of the 20th edition of the event.
Three riders attacked almost as soon as the flag dropped and quickly rode out to a lead of around five minutes as the main field sat back content to ride tempo and let the trio contest the first Subaru King of the Mountain contest which was a six kilometre Category 2 climb at Humbug Scrub, 38 kilometres in to the stage.
South African Nicolas Dlamini, Team Dimension Data claimed the top points ahead of Australian Will Clarke (Education First-Drapac) with UniSA-Australia national team rider Scott Bowden third across the line. Several minutes later Damien Howson (Mitchelton Scott) led the peloton over the line to claim fourth place climbing points.
“The plan was to get in the early breakaway to get the KOM jersey but I stuffed it up a bit,” said Clarke. “By the time I started my sprint I couldn’t catch Nicholas (Dlamini).”
While Clarke and Dlamini went on with the breakaway, Bowden dropped back to the main bunch.
At the first southaustralia.com sprint challenge at 74 kilometres it was Clarke in front with Dlamini second. Almost three minutes down the road Laurent Didier (Trek Segafredo), Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) and Jhonatan Restrepo (Team Katusha Alpecin) raced clear of the bunch to fight for the one-second time bonus on offer for third place at the Cockatoo Valley sprint line. Restrepo claimed the bonus and the three then sat up to wait for the bunch.
Clarke and Dlamini powered on working together to maintain their lead which was more than two minutes as they crossed under the finish arch to begin three laps of the a 26 kilometre Barossa Valley circuit.
The next time through Cockatoo Valley at the 100 kilometre mark it was again Clarke who grabbed the southaustralia.com sprint points ahead of Dlamini. Meanwhile in the peloton the pace picked up as Australians Nathan Haas (Team Katusha Alpecin) and Jay McCarthy (Bora – hansgrohe) tested their legs with Haas pipping McCarthy in the sprint for third place.
The flurry of pace impacted the leaders whose margin was down to less that two minutes as the race entered the final 50 kilometres.
Dlamini, having claimed the Subaru King of the Mountain lead, decided his job was done.
“It’s not exactly the racing conditions we’re used to in South Africa but we’ve been here for almost two weeks now and I felt good in the heat,” said Dlamini. “Breaking away like this and going for the KOM was something I did before in the Under 23 races.
“I wanted to give it a try in the World Tour as well,” he explained. “It worked out perfectly and hopefully there’ll be more in the next few days.”
Clarke headed down the road solo hoping he might snatch a stage win and when the race went under the finish arch for the final lap his lead was 1:35. But a repeat of his solo stage victory of 2012 wasn’t to be and Clarke was soon swamped by the stampeding peloton setting up the the spring guns.
“You never know,” said Clarke of his bid for glory. “There might be some hesitation in the bunch when you still have 40 seconds with five kilometres to go.”
The 148 kilometres Stage 2 will begin in the Adelaide suburb of Unley and travel through to the Adelaide Hills, making three laps of the leafy town of Stirling before the race finish on Mount Barker Road.