Two-time champion Andre Greipel launched a devastating sprint with 300 meters to go to easily win the opening stage of the WorldTour season-opening Tour Down Under on Tuesday. Greipel powered home by a bike length from Frenchman Arnaud Demare and Mark Renshaw of Australia and claim a record-equalling 12th stage win at the Tour Down Under. The big German won the 135km stage from Prospect to the Adelaide Hills town of Lobethal in 3:35:24 to move equal with Australia’s Robbie McEwen for the most stage wins.
As in the prologue on Sunday, Greipel’s win was set up by the dominant performance of his Lotto Berisol team, which took control a kilometer from the finish to give their team leader the perfect launch pad.
“The guys made it look easy for me,” Greipel said. “They kept me out of the wind. It was really hard for them, I know, but I trust these guys I know they are really strong and we did it again. It’s a good thing to do, to win the first WorldTour race.”
Greipel said he had been feeling strong as the race reached its final stages.
“I just had some power left. I looked to the back and saw the guys had done a really fast lead out and the bunch was strung out,” he said. “I looked over my shoulder and I thought they were going to start the sprint any time now, so I just kicked.”
The race began in near-perfect conditions in Adelaide’s northern suburbs, with local team UniSA’s Jordan Kerby breaking away immediately in a group of three, which was quickly gathered in by the peloton. But Kerby, 20, attacked again and pulled away, opening a gap of seven minutes after 16 kilometers.
“It could have been a bit of nerves, I was a bit excited getting into my first WorldTour race,” Kerby said. “UniSA always try and be a bit aggressive and I thought ‘Why not?’”
The peloton were never concerned by a lone rider out front and slowly began to reel him in, but not before Kerby had claimed the King of the Mountains points and two of the first three sprints.
With 36 kilometers to go, Frenchman Jerome Pineau from Omega Pharma-Quick-Step broke away from the peloton and went straight past Kerby, who dropped back to the main group. They were all back together with 15 kilometers to go, with the race set up perfectly for the sprinters.
Movistar’s Jose Rojas Gil tried to break up the field when he launched an attack on the last climb with eight kilometers to go, but his move was countered by Lotto Berisol and Sky. Sky pushed to the front to try and set the race up for their sprinter, Edvald Boasson Hagen. But with just over a kilometer to go Lotto Berisol made their move, sweeping to the lead with a decisive attack. Demare finished strongly, but conceded he was never going to catch Greipel.
“I should have gone earlier, but even if I had I think I was only going to finish on his wheel,” he said.
Wednesday’s second stage is a 116.5km journey from Mt Barker to Rostrevor and takes in the tour’s newest climb, the Corkscrew.