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GEELONG, Australia (VN) — Race organizers are pitching the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race as a Belgian-style classic held in January.
Sunday’s thrilling race lived up to the billing, and it was none other than Belgian veteran Dries Devenyns on Belgian powerhouse Deceuninck-Quick-Step who came home with the flowers.
When star sprinter Sam Bennett was dropped under relentless pressure from Mitchelton-Scott and Team Ineos, Devenyns adroitly followed the action. He countered behind a late-race attack from Pavel Sivakov (Ineos), caught the budding Russian star in the closing kilometers, and kicked to his first win since 2016. Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) crossed the line third to fill out the podium.
“We were riding for Sam today, but when he could not follow the pace, I was marking wheels to see if he could chase back,” Devenyns said. “I knew the others in the group were faster than me, so when Sivakov went, I knew it was a good chance for me.”
The victory was an exciting punctuation mark to the first one-day WorldTour race of 2020. Insiders called it the most electrifying edition in six years since the race was founded.
Ineos drove the pace early, putting new arrival and Ironman star Cameron Wurf on the front early. The bunch fractured into echelons under heavy crosswinds, but regrouped before a two-rider breakaway set the tone in the first half of the race.
Ineos piled on again as the pack barreled around four loops on the finishing circuit over the decisive Challambra Crescent. Kiel Reijnen closed out a strong two weeks of racing for Trek-Segafredo by riding into a strong attacking group with three laps to go. Mitchelton-Scott had other plans, and sent Simon Yates on the attack with two laps to go with lethal surges that split up the bunch.
The leading group was reduced to 15 riders on the bell lap, including Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), Jay McCarthy (Bora-Hansgrohe) and defending champion Elia Viviani (Cofidis), but none of the sprinters had teammates. World champion Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) put the rainbow stripes on display, but couldn’t match the late-race accelerations on the final charge up Challambra.
Another strong surge from Yates further reduced the bunch to six, with Jens Keukeleire (EF Pro Cycling), Dylan Van Baarle (Ineos), and McCarthy linking up with the eventual podium riders.
Sivakov tried his luck first, surging clear in the closing 5km. The budding Russian star knew it was his only chance to win.
“We had Dylan marking the wheels, and since I am not the fastest finisher, I just went as hard as I could and hoped no one could catch me,” Sivakov said. “When Devenyns caught me, I just kept going hard. I am happy and sad at the same time with second place.”
Impey took consolation with his third straight third-place podium spot in a race that Mitchelton-Scott has yet to win.
When Sivakov and then Devenyns both attacked, Impey knew he was the fastest in the four-rider chase group. So did everyone else. The others didn’t want to pull the fast finisher Impey to the line, but he didn’t want to do all the work to reel in the attackers only to be swarmed in the finale.
With the two clear up the road by a few seconds, it was Impey racing for third instead of for the win.
“We did exactly as planned, and we wanted to take the race on with two laps to go,” Impey said. “Then it was going to be a battle with the fastest guys who were going to do some work. It’s a shame we didn’t all work together there properly in the end, because the race slipped away from us.”
For Quick-Step, it’s another hot start to the 2020 season. The Belgian squad shows no sign of slowing down, posting victories in races in South America and Australia.
“That’s how it is on this team — everyone wants to win,” Devenyns said. “It seems on other teams they’re happy racing for placings. For us, it’s the victory that counts.”
Now the team prepares for the European calendar and the Belgian classics with its confidence flying high.