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ADELAIDE, Australia (AFP) — André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) won stage 1 of the Santos Tour Down Under on Tuesday, topping Arnaud Demare (FDJ) and Mark Renshaw (Blanco) in a bunch sprint in Lobethal, Australia.
Greipel, also the winner of Sunday’s People’s Choice Classic criterium, assumed the overall lead in the six-day race in South Australia. The two-time Down Under champion will look to defend the leader’s jersey in Wednesday’s challenging stage 2 to Rostrevor via the Corkscrew Road climb.
“The Gorilla” powered home by a bike length to claim a record-equalling 12th stage win at the Tour Down Under. Retired Australian Robbie McEwen also has 12 stage wins in his home tour; Greipel could break that mark later in the week when at least two more bunch finishes are expected.
The Lotto leadout took over from one kilometer out to give its team leader the perfect launchpad. Kiwi Greg Henderson pulled off with 300 meters to go as the big German jumped away for the line.
“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 was 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 36km to go, Jerome Pineau (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 15km 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 Lotto and Sky countered the move. The Brits 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, made its 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 ride from Mount Barker to Rostrevor and takes in the tour’s newest climb, the Corkscrew.