Stage 1: Prospect to Lobethal 135km
The Santos Tour Down Under has become a popular opening stop on the WorldTour. Six days of racing under the hot Australian sun is a great way to jump-start the racing season, especially when the other option is training through a European winter. The stages are relatively short and challenging without being brutal. All the stages are in or near Adelaide, so the riders stay in one location the whole time, whereas in most stage races they stay in a new place every night. Those who do well here are looking for an early crescendo to their training, some are preparing for spring classics, others looking for a boost in fitness on a long build to the Tour de France.
Cannondale Pro Cycling came with a team for the overall. Led by Stefano Agostini, the squad is supported by Cristiano Salerno, Cameron Wurf, Federico Canuti, Alan Marangoni, Juraj Sagan, and Brian Vandborg. This squad is not going to figure in massive field sprints but make their mark in long attacks and on the steeper hills. Ago' will be looking for his opportunities later in the week, when the overall victory will be decided.
The race's first stage, 135km (84mi) from Prospect to Lobethal, is much like the race itself, hard enough to stress the body but not so hard to create large time gaps. It favors sprinters rather than climbers or attackers. It starts off with a 65km (41mi) point-to-point ride, then three 25km (16mi) finishing laps.
As is typical of races where there is a wide range of skill in the peloton, the smaller teams and riders try to feature themselves as early as possible to get some exposure for sponsors and hope that they can catch the top pros napping. At kilometer zero, the race's start, there were attacks, but a few kilometers into the stage, it was Australian Jordan Kerby of UniSA that attacked. UniSA, short for University of South Australia, is an Australian composite squad comprised of young and promising domestic riders looking for exposure on the world stage. They always start attacking early at the Tour Down Under.
Even with Kerby away, the intermediate sprints were hot and contested by defending champion Simon Gerrans of Orica-Greenedge, as well as others who had designs on overall victory. Besides money on the line, there were time bonuses as well--three seconds for first, two for second, and one for third--and Gerrans, keen on becoming the first ever three-time winner of the race, is looking for any edge he can get.
With 36km (22.5mi) to go, Jerome Pineau of Omega Pharma-Quickstep caught Kerby and went right by. Pineau remained in front until the final intermediate sprint, where world champion Philippe Gilbert of BMC attacked from the field and just got by Pineau on the line to snatch three seconds. And it was all together for the finish.
Lotto-Belisol, working for sprinter Andre Greipel, controlled the final kilometers, and Greipel leapt from their slipstream to win easily. Greipel won a criterium two days earlier, and he's a perennial winner at TDU, as this is his twelfth stage victory over the years.
Stefano Agostini led Cannondale Pro Cycling with 19th place on the day. With time bonuses figured in, he's at 23rd overall, ten seconds behind race leader Greipel, but Greipel isn't looking for overall victory, so that gap isn't one to worry about. Gerrans and Gilbert are, however, and they are three seconds ahead of Ago'. Australian Cameron Wurf, on his return to Cannondale, finished 102nd, 1:19 down.
Tomorrow's Stage Two rides from Mount Parker to Rostrevor in 116.5km (73mi). The big obstacle of the day is Adelaide's Corkscrew Hill, which should shed most of the sprinters. The stage finishes downhill, so it will probably be a small group contesting the win. Expect to see Ago' up there, as the Cannondale rider will be keen to see if he can pick up some bonus seconds on the finish line.
Stage 1 Prospect to Lobethal 135km
1. Andre Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol - 3:35:24
2. Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ - same time
3. Mark Renshaw (Aus) Blanco - same time
4. Simone Ponzi (Ita) Astana - same time
5. Steele Von Hoff (Aus) Garmin Sharp - same time
Stage 1 Cannondale
19. Stefano Agostini (Ita) Cannondale - same time
26 Federico Canuti (Ita) - same time
31. Juraj Sagan (Svk) - same time
82. Cristiano Salerno (Ita) - same time
102. Cameron Wurf (Aus) - 0:01:19
113. Brian Vandborg (Dnk) - 0:01:19
127. Alan Marangoni (Ita) - 0:05:18
1. Andre Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol - 3:35:14
2. Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ - 0:00:04
3. Mark Renshaw (Aus) Blanco - 0:00:06
4. Simon Gerrans (Aus) ORICA GreenEdge - 0:00:07
5. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC - same time
23. Stefano Agostini (Ita) - 0:00:10
30. Federico Canuti (Ita) - same time
35. Juraj Sagan (Svk) - same time
82. Cristiano Salerno (Ita) - same time
102. Cameron Wurf (Aus) - 0:01:29
113. Brian Vandborg (Dnk) - same time
127. Alan Marangoni (Ita) - 0:05:22