ADELAIDE, Australia (AFP) — Australian Jack Bobridge led a defiant breakaway group of four cyclists to take the first stage of the WorldTour season-opening Santos Tour Down Under in South Australia on Tuesday.
Bobridge, riding for the local UniSa team, made his move with 200 meters to go to out-sprint his rivals and win the 136.2 kilometer stage in two hours, 59 minutes, 44 seconds.
Fellow breakaway riders Lieuwe Westra (Astana), Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEdge), and Maxim Belkov (Katusha) finished just behind Bobridge, only meters ahead of the peloton, which left their run too late and failed to reel in the four leaders.
The Tour Down Under began in the Barossa Valley winery town of Tanunda Tuesday morning in overcast and muggy conditions.
The break began after just five kilometers and although the four riders never built a massive lead, the peloton wasn’t interested in chasing them down.
The lead was still over a minute when they reached the bottom of the climb up Checkers Hill, but soon after the summit, it was down to 16 seconds, and it looked as though the front group would be swallowed up with 10 kilometers to go.
But the peloton eased up and the leaders were again able to get away, and when they were 40 seconds out with three kilometers to go, it became clear that they would hold on for a rare successful break.
The leaders began to play cat and mouse as the finish line neared, with Belkov trying to force the issue with a kilometer to go.
However, Bobridge kept his nerve and attacked on an uphill stretch 200 meters from the finish to claim the first ochre leader’s jersey of the 2015 race.
Bobridge admitted he was surprised the group was able hold on until the end.
“To be honest, coming through Williamstown at halfway, the lead was down to 30 seconds, and all the guys had given up,” he conceded.
“But we played it perfectly and kept our heads when the peloton was playing games with us … We played the big game at the end and stayed away.”
Bobridge grew up in Adelaide and said that had been a huge help.
“The biggest advantage was knowing the roads. I don’t know how many times I’ve been up that road — it was a massive advantage,” he said.
He also said he had to resist the urge to attack too early toward the finish when the peloton was closing so quickly.
“When you see a bunch charging at you that hard it’s pretty nerve-racking, and it’s pretty easy to go early,” he said.
“But I kept my nerve and it worked out perfectly.”
Wednesday’s 150.5km stage takes the riders from inner-city Unley to the Adelaide Hills town of Stirling.