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Having been almost brought back with 20km to go, a four-rider breakaway managed to stay clear on the opening stage of the Tour Down Under, with Bobridge beating Westra and Durbridge to take a surprise win

Photo: Sirotti

JACK BOBRIDGE

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LIEUWE WESTRA

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LUKE DURBRIDGE

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TOUR DOWN UNDER

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20.01.2015 @ 11:37 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

All was set for the sprinters to battle it out for the win in the first WorldTour race of the year but it was Jack Bobridge (UniSA) who took a surprise win on the first stage of the Tour Down Under. Having joined forces with strong riders Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEDGE), Lieuwe Westra (Astana) and Maxim Belkov (Katusha) in the early break, he managed to hold off the peloton by less than a second to beat Westra and Durbridge in the sprint and claim the first ochre leader’s jersey in the race.

 

In 2009, Lance Armstrong told the world that young talent Jack Bobridge was destined for big things after the Australian had ridden strongly for the UniSA team at the Santos Tour Down Under. Those words created big expectations for the youngster but while he continued to shine on the track, he never got much success on the road despite riding for several different WorldTour teams.

 

This year Bobridge has returned to his native Australia to ride with the Budget Forklifts team and focus most of his attention on a bid for the team pursuit gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and has also embarked on an Hour Record Attempt on January 31. As part of his preparation, he earned selection for the UniSA team for the Tour Down Under, with the home race set to be a vital part of his build-up for his main event.

 

Apparently, it has suited him well to return to his roots as Bobridge took a surprise win in the opening stage of the first WorldTour race of the year, his second win in the elite division after he claimed a stage in the 2010 Eneco Tour. On a day when everything was set for a big bunch sprint, Bobridge joined forces with an excellent trio of time triallists to form the early break and even though the catch seemed to be imminent throughout most of the stage, the quartet managed to hold off the peloton.

 

Together with Lieuwe Westra, Luke Durbridge and Maxim Belkov, Bobridge built an advantage of 2.40 but with Giant-Alpecin keen on a sprint finish and Sky and BMC eager to defend their GC options, the gap never got bigger than that. In fact, it was down to less than a minute with 55km to go and the peloton seemed to have everything under control.

 

Despite an acceleration in the peloton as they approached the only climb of the day, Checker’s Hill, the escapees did an excellent work to reopen their advantage to a bit more than a minute but after Bobridge had taken the KOM jersey by winning the sprint, the fast pace had reduced the advantage to just 200m. Impressively, the four escapees had an extra gear and with 5km to go, they were again 40 seconds ahead.

 

At this point, it was clear that the break would stay away and the game of cat-and-mouse could start. In the end, the peloton got very close but by launching a long sprint, Bobridge managed to hold off Westra and Durbridge while Niccolo Bonifazio’s (Lampre-Merida) bunch sprint win was only good enough for fifth.

 

With 10 bonus seconds for the win and 3 bonus seconds for the win in the first intermediate sprint, Bobridge goes into stage 2 with a 4-second lead over Westra while most of the peloton is 13 seconds behind. However, the Australian faces a tough challenge tomorrow when the stage finishes with two laps of the tough circuit in Stirling and the traditional uphill sprint that will be the scene of the first small battle between the GC riders.

 

A flat opener

The Tour Down Under kicked off with a short 132.6km stage from Tanunda to Campbelltown and as it is often the case in the Australian race, it was set to be a day for the sprinters. After a few laps on a flat circuit around the starting city, the riders headed along equally flat roads to the finish, with the only challenge being the 1.2km Checker’s Hill just 28.5km from the finish.

 

With no neutral zone, it was straight to the business for the WorldTour riders but apparently there was no real interest in joining the early break. Durbridge, Westra and Belkov were the first to attack and after they had been joined by Bobridge, the break had been formed.

 

Sky take control

While the peloton took a short breather, the gap reached 2.10 after 15 minutes of racing but that was the signal for Sky to kick into action. Defending Richie Porte’s GC options, the British team hit the front and when the gap had reached a maximum of 2.45, they were joined by Giant-Alpecin.

 

Those two teams combined forces to control the situation and when Bobridge rolled across the line at the first intermediate sprint ahead of Westra, Belkov and Durbridge, the escapees were still 2.35 ahead. With 100km to go, however, BMC also started to chase and they helped keep the gap stable between 2.00 and 2.30.

 

The gap comes down

With 75km to go, the gap dropped below the 2-minute mark and at the halfway point, the escapees were just 1.40 ahead. The peloton was now riding a lot faster and 10km further up the road, the advantage was only 50 seconds. At this point, Durbridge beat Belkov, Westra and Bobridge in the final intermediate sprint to make sure that the bonus seconds were equally distributed between the four riders.

 

The fight for position had now started in the peloton as everyone wanted to be well-placed for Checker’s Hill and this only made things even faster. While Ag2r, BMC, Orica-GreenEDGE, Sky, Trek and Tinkoff-Saxo rode hard on the front, the gap hovered around the 30-second mark in the run-in to the main challenge.

 

Bobridge wins KOM sprint

Impressively, the break extended their advantage to 1.13 by the time Tinkoff-Saxo ld the peloton onto the climb. At the top, Bobridge and Durbridge sprinted for the points, with the former becoming the first holder of the mountains classification.

 

The two Australians had dropped their companions but things came back together on the descent as the gap was only 46 seconds. IAM were now chasing hard to set up Heinrich Haussler for the sprint and as they were joined by Sky and BMC, the gap was down to just 21 seconds with 20km to go.

 

Sky chase hard

Peter Kennaugh did a huge work for Sky but the gap remained at around 20 seconds for a while. Sky briefly disappeared from the front to allow Geraint Thomas to rejoin the peloton after a bike change but with 10km to go, the gap was still 25 seconds.

 

Etixx-QuickStep took over the pace-setting before Tinkoff-Saxo hit the front again but with 5km to go, the escapees had extended their advantage to 40 seconds. At the passage of the flamme rouge, it was still 33 second and the escapees could sprint it out for the win, with Bobridge taking an upset victory on home soil.

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