Tour Down Under debuts with broiling, shortened stage
All Quick-Step Floors Cycling riders concluded in the same time as the winner the hot day spent in the saddle.
First World Tour event of the season, the Tour Down Under debuted on Tuesday with a 118km-long stage which took the peloton from Unley to Lyndoch, a small town located northeast of Adelaide, which was hosting a stage finish for the second consecutive year.
As soon as the red flag was waved, Laurens De Vreese (Astana) attacked and built a gap of four minutes, which began to melt down as soon as the sprinters' teams took over the reins in the pack. The Belgian got to win the day's KOM and first intermediate sprint, before being caught by a peloton very eager to end the stage which was raced in a scorching heat, with punishing temperatures of 39 degrees Celsius.
Due to the heat, the stage was at one point well behind schedule, and these two factors prompted the organizers to shorten the route by 25 kilometers. In the final kilometers, Adam Hansen (Lotto-Soudal) and Jan Bakelants (AG2R) tried their luck, but both didn't stand any chance against a peloton which had a clear plan on Tuesday: to see the stage conclude in a massive sprint.
The finish had a very gradual descent over the last three kilometers, except for the final 200 meters, which were completely flat. That's where everything was played out, with a strong headwind also having a role in the outcome, and Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) proved to be the fastest, taking the victory and the overall lead after out-powering Danny van Poppel (Team Sky) and Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe).
For the Quick-Step Floors Cycling boys it was all about staying hydrated and making it safely to the finish in Lyndoch before the more important and testing stages that are yet to come this week. First rider of our team to come home was Jack Bauer, the New Zealand National ITT Champion, who crossed the line in 23rd place, after working the whole stage for his teammates: "I was looking after Petr Vakoč for most of the day, trying to stay near him and keep him out of trouble in the finale, making sure he doesn't get caught up on the wrong side of any splits."
Bauer, who's racing the Tour Down Under for the fifth time in his career, also praised the organisers' decision to reduce the length of stage 1: "It was pretty hot out there, around 40 degrees, and thankfully the organizers shortened the stage by a lap. A lot of the riders in the peloton felt that the day was already long enough, given the weather conditions, even despite the fact that the lap was taken out. Now we have to recover well today, cool the body down and be ready for what stage 2 to Paracombe throws at us tomorrow."
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