By Rupert Guinness of The Australian, for VeloNews
Australian champion Robbie McEwen was the first to raise his hands in triumph at the Jacob’s Creek Tour Down Under with an emphatic win in Tuesday night’s first stage.
McEwen (Lotto) won the 47km criterium at the Adelaide, Australia, beachside suburb of Glenelg from Corey Sweet (Uni of South Australia) and Dutch champion Jans Koerts (Domo).
The trio formed the winning breakaway after only nine of 25 laps on the 1.88km circuit and held off a chase group of 10 riders after lapping the main bunch with four laps to go.
However, because the peloton was ordered to stop racing with two laps to go, the entire field was given the same finishing time of 59 minutes and 14 seconds.
For McEwen the win in front of a record 75,000-strong crowd, was his fourth for the year.
In the last 10 days, the 1999 Tour de France stage winner has won the Bay Series in Victoria, as well as the Australian criterium and road championships.
“I couldn’t have had a better start to the year,” said McEwen who is now racing for the Belgian Lotto-Adecco team.
“Being in a new team, they [the sponsor] expected a lot from me and I wanted to deliver.”
McEwen’s appearance at Glenelg was his first in the green-and-gold striped Australian road champion’s jersey, which he will wear for the 2002 season.
“Riding in the jersey has given me extra motivation,” said McEwen. “I have seen other guys in it and have dreamt of wearing it and taking it back to Europe.”
However, he will hang that up for tomorrow’s second stage as he will wear the race leader’s yellow jersey for the 150km second stage from Hahndorf to Strathalbyn.
McEwen yesterday said he came into the tour confident of being able to continue his winning spree. And he labeled the make-up of the winning break as “ideal”.
“Jans and I have been training together on the Gold Coast [of Australia, in Queensland]. And I know that Corey has been training really hard, so it was ideal,” he said.
“Then in the sprint I was in the box seat going into the headwind. On the last lap Corey attacked and I went after him. Then Jan counter-attacked and I went after him.
“Also, Jans and I both had teammates in the chase group who were able to slow the chase down as much as they could.”
For his breakaway companions, their efforts did not go unrewarded.
Koerts won the two intermediate sprints to claim the sprinters jersey. The most aggressive rider award went to Sweet, the young brother of Commonwealth Games road champion Jay Sweet.
McEwen admitted that from the gun he had planned to ride an aggressive race. He was in nearly every one of the many Australian-ignited attacks before the winning move was made.
“All the Europeans here are underdone. I know that from the first race of the season you can be really keen, start attacking and then with five or six laps to go have nothing left.
“But I have trained really hard for this and now I am going from strength to strength.”
How far that strength will carry McEwen is still open to question.
With all riders on the same time – bar Belgian champion Ludovic Capelle (AG2R) – who lost 2 minutes and placed last – the race lead is up for grabs tomorrow.
“Here is still a long, long way to go. I have seen guys win the first stage and a breakaway gets away and that’s it,” said McEwen.
“But I am going to try and ignore the fact that I am wearing the leader’s jersey and keep riding my own race.
“The pattern of this race is that a break has always gone on the first stage. It is normally the strongest guys who make it into that.
“The way I feel, I feel strong enough. I just have to be in the right position at the right time to get into that breakaway.”
Stage 1: Glenelg criterium – 43km;
1. Robbie McEwen (Aus), Lotto-Adecco, 59:14;
2. Corey Sweet (Aus), Uni SA;
3. Jans Koerts (Nl), Domo-Farm Frites;
4. Max Van Heeswijk (Nl), Domo-Farm Frites;
5. Glenn d’Hollander (B), Lotto-Adecco;
6. Julian Dean (NZ), CST;
7. Henk Vogels (Aus), Mercury;
8. Alexandre Botcharov (Rus), AG2R;
9. Fabio Sacchi (I), Saeco;
10. Frederic Guesdon (F), La Francaise des Jeux;
* Other selected results:;
11. Danielle Nardello (I), Mapei;
12. Jens Heppner (G), Telekom;
13. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Credit Agricole;
23. Bobby Julich (USA) Telekom;
24. Freddy Rodriguez (USA), Domo-Farm Frites;
42. Stefen Weseman (G), Telekom;
46. Servais Knaven (Nl), Domo-Farm Frites;
55. Brad McGee (Aus), La Francaise des Jeux;
60. Scott Sunderland (Aus), AIS;
71. Cadel Evans (Aus), Mapei;
90. Andreas Kloden (G), Telekom;
94. Jan Kirsipuu (Est), AG2R, all s.t.;
* General classification as per stage results with 96 riders in the race.;
*Category leaders going into stage 2: 150km from Hahndorf to Strathalbyn;
– Jacob’s Creek Yellow jersey: Robbie McEwen, Aus (Lotto-Adecco);
– SA Lotteries Sprint: Jan Koerts, Neth (Domo);
– Share the Road Young Rider: David Mcpartland, Aus (United water);
– Centruy 21 Most Aggressive: Corey Sweet, Aus (Uni SA).