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Luke Durbridge opens season with solo win at Santos Festival of Cycling

Domestic four-stage race gets underway with wins for Durbridge and former Aussie road, MTB and 'cross champ Peta Mullens.

The Santos Festival of Cycling got underway Thursday with Luke Durbridge and Peta Mullens taking victory in the opening day of the four-stage road race.

Durbridge got the season off to a perfect start for his newly renamed BikeExchange team by turning on the WorldTour motor to solo away from the field with over 80 kilometers to go. In the women’s race, Mullens surprised the big names in the Garmin-Australia composite team and BikeExchange women’s teams to win from a reduced sprint.

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“I guess it wasn’t really the plan,” Durbridge said of his two-hour solo move. “The pressure was really on our shoulders as the only WorldTour team here. All the boys were motivated and I’m glad I could finish it off.

“I said to myself today I’d be a bit brave and go for it … I countered the sprint at the first intermediate and just sort of squeezed on a little bit and nobody really came with me. When I got a gap I just settled in. That’s just my style, most of the year I’m out of the front of the peloton.”

Mullens, riding for the Australian Roxsolt LIV SRAM team, showed the strength that has earned her Australian national titles in mountain biking, road racing, and cyclocross to win from a group of around ten with a long, powerful sprint.

“I didn’t really come here with GC ambitions, but to win a stage is really cool and try to protect [teammate] Carlee Taylor who has come out of a (three-year) retirement,” Mullens said.

The best-placed WorldTour rider in the women’s race was Lucy Kennedy (BikeExchange), who took eighth.

BikeExchange also took the third step of the podium in the men’s race with Damien Howson. Richie Porte, riding for the Garmin-Australia team, finished in the bunch, nearly 17 minutes down.

The four-stage race is a part of the multi-discipline Festival of Cycling organized in lieu of the shuttered Santos Tour Down Under. Stage 2, Friday, is likely to finish in a sprint with the iconic Old Willunga Hill set to decide the winner on stage 3. The final stage Sunday will be a circuit race in downtown Adelaide.

“It was great, we have been wanting to get back to racing for a really long time, Mullens said. “I know this [last year’s Tour Down Under] is pretty much the last time we had a really big bike race.”

Be sure to check out all the other “Aussie Week” content we have on VeloNews.com this week as part of a celebration of all-things Australian cycling.

Santos Festival of Cycling – Stage 1 – Men’s:
1. Luke Durbridge (Team BikeExchange) 2:34:51
2. Raphael Freiensten (InForm Insight TM Make) +02:24
3. Damien Howson (Team BikeExchange) +02:24

Santos Festival of Cycling – Stage 1 – Women’s:
1. Peta Mullens (Roxsolt LIV Sram) 2:18:21
2. Ruby Roseman-Gannon (ARA Pro-Racing Sunshine Coast) +0:02
3. Nicole Frain (Sydney Uni Staminade) +0:06