Will Clarke (EF Education First – Drapac p/b Cannondale) was tasked with getting into the break on the opening stage of the Santos Tour Down Under by his Directeur Sportif Tom Southam and the Tasmanian delivered.
Within minutes of the peloton rolling out of Port Adelaide, a three-rider escape had taken shape. Clarke handily made the move that stayed away from the peloton for more than 130-kilometres of the 145-kilometre day. The last man standing, Clarke earned Most Competitive before he was swept up by the peloton inside the final 10 kilometers.
“It wasn’t a hard move to get into today,” noted Clarke. “I managed it pretty easily. The goal actually was to try to get the KOM jersey, which I made a pretty big blunder of chasing.”
The stage’s only KOM points were on offer over the category two Humbug Scrub. Nicholas Dlamini (Dimension Data) scooped up maximum points, distancing Clarke en route to the summit.
“I sort of waited a bit too long and then totally stuffed it up really,” admitted Clarke. “It was a bit annoying.”
Clarke made up for the mistake in the two intermediate sprints. He won them both, earning six seconds towards the general classification and 10 points towards the sprint jersey.
Scott Bowden (UniSA-Australia) lost contact with the breakaway well before the intermediate sprints. Dlamini fell off the pace at the 25-kilometre marker. Clarke pushed on. The peloton played with Clarke, allowing him to dangle 200 meters ahead in an effort to avoid counter-attacks when he was caught.
“We had a good idea how the race was going to go today, and we based our objectives off that,” said Southam. “It was disappointing to miss out on the first, the KOM jersey, but Will did a lot of good work out there, soaking up the time bonuses. Behind Will, our GC guys were well looked after by the rest of the team. Things worked out well for us on the road.”
The stage ended with a bunch kick in Lyndoch. Veteran André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) sprinted to a record-extending 17th Santos Tour Down Under stage victory ahead of young gun Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-SCOTT) and world champion Peter Sagan (Bora – hansgrohe).
Thanks to bonus seconds, Clarke sits third overall heading into stage two, tied on time with Ewan, four seconds behind Greipel.
The 20th edition of the Santos Tour Down Under continues on Wednesday with a fan-favourite route between Unley and Stirling. The peloton traverses the Adelaide Hills and three laps of the familiar Stirling circuit before a punchy uphill drag to the stage two finish line.