The Bora-hansgrohe team got their season off to a flying start in Adelaide today with Sam Bennett taking second and the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, in third in the People’s Choice Classic criterium.
The People’s Choice Classic is the precursor to the Tour Down Under – a criterium in the streets of Adelaide circling one of the city’s beautiful parks. While the course was a simple 50.6km route, covering 22 laps of a four-sided street circuit, this meant the riders themselves took centre stage, with breakaways and attacks from the drop of the flag. While no UCI points were up for grabs, this in no way affected the pace of the racing – for many riders this was their first race of the 2017 season, as well as their first time racing for new teams.
The first ten laps were marked by a succession of two-man breakaways – riders eager to pick up bonuses in the sprints at the five and ten-lap points. However, as the race progressed, the speed in the bunch rose steadily as they entered the final five laps of the circuit.
With two laps left to go, it was all back together and the sprinters started massing at the front, eager to take the first win of their season. The sprint trains took their turns, trying to take control of the peloton ahead of the final lap and as the finish loomed closer, it was the BORA – hansgrohe riders who took their place at the head of the race, the UCI World Champion leading out Sam Bennett for second place, the Irish rider swinging round him before the line, before taking third for himself.
The Irish rider was grateful for Peter’s support in the final sprint – the Slovakian rider setting an incredibly fast pace in the race’s close. “The guys did an amazing job. They did everything perfectly I can’t thank them enough. In the final, everybody thought Peter was sprinting, so it was a fight for his wheel so he had to hang back for the last kilometre, but even then the last 500m we were still fighting for his wheel and they wouldn’t let him out, and we had to open up the sprint really late. We had great power and speed and that gave us great confidence. If we’d just got out in time we would have got that.”
The strong finish represented a good start to the new season, as Sports Director, Steffen Radochla, explained: “It was the first race of the team and they did a really, really good job. Being their first race, the leadout worked very well and they had a nice finale. We took second and third and that makes me happy for the next days. I look forward to the race.”
Ralph Denk, Manager of BORA – hansgrohe, seconded his Sports Director’s comments. “It was nice to see the guys racing. We worked really hard in the last two months to set up everything, make the contracts with the riders and sponsors and bring everything in order. It was a good opening for us, with a second place for Sam Bennett and a third for Peter Sagan. For sure, we tried to win the race but aren’t unhappy and this will give us confidence for the next days.”
The UCI World Champion, having ridden hard in support of his team today, was already looking ahead to the next stage. “It was ok today. I rode for Sam, so I was one of the last guys on the lead-out train for the sprint, or the second last one. We’ll see how my legs are for the days to come – I’m going to recover now for the next stage.”
The Tour Down Under starts on Tuesday, where riders will take on an undulating 145km route, starting with a punishing climb up Humbug Scrub, before tackling a tough final circuit ridden three times ahead of the downhill final run into the finish in Lyndoch.