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Marcel Kittel opens 2015 account with victory in the People’s Choice Classic

Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin) got right down to business on Sunday as the People’s Choice Classic in Adelaide kicked off a week of WorldTour racing in Australia, out-kicking Juan Jose Lobato Del Valle (Movistar) and Wouter Wippert (Drapac).

The 51km, 30-lap criterium was the prelude to the Santos Tour Down Under, which starts on Tuesday.

Kittel, who won last year’s Classic but on a different course, said he was “happy and proud” to win his first race of 2015.

“I’m always nervous before the first race of the year and I also always want to win the first race of the year,” the German sprinter said. “This is my third time in South Australia and I really like this place. I like it even more when I win like today.”

The race began with a tribute to 2011 Tour de France champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), who rode to the head of the start queue escorted by the 30 other Australians in the race as the national anthem, “Advance Australia Fair,” rang out across the city.

Then the contest got under way, and 10 laps in a lead group of four had assembled with an advantage of some 20 seconds.

By midrace, the quartet — Mathew Hayman (Orica-GreenEdge), Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky), Calvin Watson (Trek Factory Racing) and Dario Cataldo (Astana) — had half a minute on the field.

“We don’t have a sprinter here, so we wanted to try to sneak into something if we could,” said Hayman. “It worked out, and I got to stay away for most of the race.”

It couldn’t last, though, and as the peloton organized itself for a bunch sprint the escapees’ lead dwindled until it was gone altogether with eight laps remaining.

Wippert said the final sprint for the line was “just crazy.”

“The team put me in front with five laps to go and from the last corner, it was just go, nothing to lose,” he said. “I came fast, but not fast enough.”

Newly crowned Australian road champion Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) missed the podium entirely, finishing fifth.

“I was coming from behind, very, very fast, (then) the door closed a little bit. I had to brake, stop pedaling, but that’s sprinting,” said Haussler.

“It’s a good sign for the rest of the week … the boys did great work today.”

After a rest day on Monday, the Santos Tour Down Under — the first WorldTour event of 2015 — begins on Tuesday with a 132km stage from the Barossa Valley town of Tanunda to the finish in Campbelltown.