Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp) continued his love story with the Jayco Herald Sun Tour when he beat Matthew Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Jonathan Cantwell (Drapac) in the uphill sprint at the end of stage 1. Having originally been expected to lead out teammate Steele Von Hoff, the 2011 winner of the race also takes over the leader's jersey from teammate Jack Bauer.
The international cycling world first learnt about Nathan Haas when the young Australian beat the international stars to win the Jayco Herald Sun Tour while riding for the domestic Genesys team in 2011. That victory and a subsequent win in the Japan Cup came on the back of a strong showing on the domestic scene and allowed him to secure a professional contract with Garmin-Sharp for the 2012 season.
These days Haas is back at the Sun Tour where it all started, for the first time since 2011 and he has continued his love story with the Australian race right from the early days in the 5-stage race. After finishing 5th in the opening prologue which was won by his teammate Jack Bauer, he sprinted to the win on the first stage to get back into the yellow jersey he held three years ago.
Haas' Garmin-Sharp team had played a prominent role throughout the stage as they had joined Avanti in splitting things up on the category 1 Glenmore Hill 49.1km from the finish in Ballarat. On the top of the brutally steep ascent, an 18-rider group had formed, with three Garmin-Sharp and five Orica-GreenEDGE riders making for solid representation from the WorldTour teams.
A bigger group caught up with the leader and so 41 riders arrived at the finish together. With Garmin-Sharp sprinter Steele Von Hoff having made the split, Haas was given the role of a lead-out man and was preparing himself to set his teammate up for the win.
However, Von Hoff allowed Haas to get a small gap and when his rivals sensed what had happened, it was all too late. Renowned sprinter Matthew Goss and Jonathan Cantwell couldn't get back to Haas who had already showed great condition by finishing 5th in the Tour Down Under and had to settle for the minor placings.
With the win, Haas takes 10 bonus seconds that moves him into the overall lead, 7 seconds ahead of Bauer and 9 seconds ahead of William Clarke (Drapac). He faces his first big jersey defence in tomorrow's 165km stage from Ballarat to Bendigo that sends the riders up the category 1 Mount Alexander 50km from the finish. However, a fast descent and flat run-in to the finish means that some kind of sprint is expected at the end.
A short stage
After yesterday's short 2.5km prologue, Bauer took to the start line in Geelong with his leader's jersey for a short 116km stage that ended in Ballarat. The stage was mostly flat but the steep category 1 Glenmore Hill which came 49km from the finish was expected to do some damage on the riders' legs before the expected uphill sprint on Sturt Street in the finishing city.
The stage started off with a rapid pace as several riders were eager to be part of the early action. After 12km things were still together as the peloton was strung out in a long line.
The break is formed
Finally, a group managed to get clear when Thomas Hamilton (Jayco Australian U23 team), Nathan Elliot (African Wildlife Safaris) and Alberto Bettiol (Cannondale) started to build up a gap. Their advantage reached 3.26 before the Bauer's Garmin-Sharp team started to control proceedings.
Bettiol beat Hamilton and Elliott in the day's only intermediate sprint at the 23.3km mark but the peloton appeared to have everything under control. They started to slowly reel in the front group and when they hit the bottom of the Glenmore Hill, the advantage had been brought back to just 1.20.
The break splits up
Elliott was unable to keep up with his companions on the steep slopes and just before the top, Hamilton made an acceleration that left Bettiol. At the top, the Italian was 10 seconds behind, with Elliott struggling 10 seconds further adrift.
Behind, a drama unfolded as Garmin-Sharp and Avanti had decided to take the bull by the horns and were wreaking havoc on the peloton. At the top, a 16-rider group had formed which quickly swallowed up Elliott and immediately sent him out the back door.
A strong 18-rider group
A little later, the group had also caught Bettiol and Hamilton and so an 18-rider group was formed, containing Jonathan Cantwell (Aus) Drapac Pro Cycling, Thomas Moses (GBr) Rapha Condor JLT, Jack Bauer (NZl) Garmin Sharp, Neil Van Der Ploeg (Aus) Avanti Cycling Team, John Anderson (Aus) Drapac Pro Cycling, Nathan Haas (Aus) Garmin Sharp, Steele von Hoff (Aus) Garmin Sharp, Jack Haig (Aus) Avanti Cycling Team, Mark O'Brien (Aus) Avanti Cycling Team, Robert Power (Aus) Jayco Australian U23, Lachlan Norris (Aus) Drapac Pro Cycling, Mitch Docker (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge, Matthew Goss (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge, William Clarke (Aus) Drapac Pro Cycling, Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge, Simon Clarke (Aus) Orica-GreenEDGE, Alberto Bettiol (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling and Thomas Hamilton (Aus) Jayco Australian U23. With 5 of 6 Orica-GreenEDGE riders in the move, the Australian team did a lot of work to drive the chase and managed to build up a 32-second gap over the main peloton.
Haas beat Simon Clarke and Norris at the top of the final climb of the day and three big groups were now spread across the road. With 25km to go, the first two of those came together, making it a 41-rider group at the front.
Clarke and Lane give it a go
From there, the pace was kept high all the way to the finish, with everybody seemingly content with a sprint finish. With 4km to go, William Clarke and Pat Lane (Synergy Baku) tried to change the script but the sprinters were not in a mood to let them go.
As the peloton powered down towards the finish, all eyes were on Goss, Cantwell and Von Hoff but it was Haas who emerged as the strongest in the sprint. The Australian now both has the leader's and points jerseys while Hamilton is the first leader in the mountains classification.
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