ADELAIDE, Australia (AFP) — Rohan Dennis stayed out of trouble on the final stage to win the UCI season-opening Santos Tour Down Under by two seconds from fellow Australian Richie Porte on Sunday.
The BMC Racing rider finished in the leading group behind stage winner Wouter Wippert (Drapac) to win the race, which concluded with a 90km stage through the streets of Adelaide.
Dennis headed an all-Australian podium, with Porte (Sky) second and his BMC teammate Cadel Evans 20 seconds back in third.
Dennis took the leader’s ochre jersey on Thursday after a stunning win on top of Paracombe Hill, then managed to cling to the lead when Porte claimed the penultimate stage up the notorious Willunga Hill.
Then, on Sunday, Dennis and the other overall contenders avoided a crash on the second-to-last lap that took out stage favorite Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin).
“I had to make sure I kept within distance of Richie, especially after that little spill,” Dennis said. “It was just about following him and making sure if there was a split it wasn’t too hard to come across.”
Dennis said former Tour de France winner Evans, who is about to retire from the sport, had helped him during Sunday’s race.
“He just said keep following me — obviously he was staying close to Richie as well making sure he didn’t lose time,” Dennis said, adding that Evans’ presence had taken pressure off him leading into the final stage.
“When we go down the street for coffee after dinner everyone harasses him,” he said. “Everyone wants to talk to him and even though I was leading the race I could just walk around in the background, so for me it was absolutely perfect.”
Sunday’s final stage win by Wippert was a triumph for Drapac, which has ambitions to join Orica-GreenEdge as a UCI WorldTour team.
Drapac took responsibility for chasing down a group of six riders, who broke away after the first intermediate sprint on the eighth lap and still had a lead of one minute with just over four laps to go.
Once the group was caught the sprinters jostled for position in the ride up Montefiore Hill before the right-hand turn into the fast finishing straight.
IAM Cycling brought Heinrich Haussler to the front but Wippert muscled his way past and stole a crucial break.
Haussler pushed hard but could not overhaul Wippert, with Boris Valle (Lotto-Soudal) coming third.
Early race leader Jack Bobridge (UniSA) took out the King of the Mountain competition, while South African Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge) won the points jersey.