Bennett takes opening stage of Tour Down Under

Irishman claims victory in first race for Deceuninck-Quick-Step, outsprinting Jasper Philipsen and Erik Baska.

Sam Bennett took the first stage of Santos Tour Down Under, Tuesday.

The Irishman took his first victory in his first race for Deceuninck-Quick-Step, outsprinting Jasper Philipsen (UAE-Team Emirates) and Erik Baska (Bora-Hansgrohe).

“I’d be lying if I’d say I didn’t feel the pressure to get that first win,” said Bennett.

“I am very happy it came today, on the very first stage of the season’s first race, and I can’t thank my incredible teammates enough, because the result is down to their amazing effort.”

The WorldTour got underway with the 150km stage around Tanunda and was sure to finish in a sprint. The route, which took the peloton around five laps of a 30km circuit, included some sharp rises but nothing severe enough to shed the star sprinter lineup.

A breakaway quartet of Joey Rosskopf (CCC-Team), Michael Storer (Sunweb), Dylan Sunderland (NTT), and  Jarrad Drizner (UniSA) went away early in the race, with American Rosskopf the last to be caught, at 35km to go.

The run-in to the final was controlled by Lotto-Soudal and Deceuninck-Quick-Step, working for favorites for the stage Caleb Ewan and Bennett. As the race entered the final stretch through Tanunda, it was Quick-Step that seized the advantage with a strong force of leadout men shepherding Bennett into position, while Lotto-Soudal and Ewan were caught out of position, several wheels back.

Going into the final straight, Bennett was perfectly locked on to his final leadout man Michael Morkov. Philipsen and Baska were behind Bennett, having sensed Quick-Step had the leadout to profit from.

EF Pro Cycling initially looked to challenge but faded, coming to the front too late. Ewan and his team were back in the pack, out of contention.

When Morkov peeled off after his pull, it was Philipsen who moved first, coming off Bennett’s wheel. The young Belgian looked to be riding clear to victory, but was unable to match Bennett once he opened his sprint. The Irish champion powered to the line for a convincing victory, leaving Philipsen to take second, Baska third. The victory gives Bennett the race leader’s jersey.

Behind them came Elia Viviani (Cofidis) and Andre Greipel (Israel Start-Up Nation), though neither of the experienced sprinters ever looked in the running for a podium finish.

“The week has just started and I hope other good results will soon follow,” said Bennett after the race.

Stage 2 features a grinding uphill finish that could see a range of riders take victory, from sprinters to classics-style riders – so that second victory Bennett seeks could come as soon as tomorrow.