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No Cruising at People’s Choice Classic

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Jan 17, 2015 – People’s Choice Classic criterium kicks off a week of Tour Down Under racing in Adelaide, South Australia.

James Raison

“Just cruising around with my team, and when the hard part started, I just moved up the front and I think we did the job perfectly.”

Caleb Ewan’s assessment of his emphatic victory of the 30 lap, 51km People’s Choice Classic criterium around the eastern Adelaide parklands oozes a relaxed confidence in himself and his team.

Ewan (Orica GreenEdge), emblazoned in the green and gold of the Australian National criterium champion, timed his final sprint to perfection. Just 50 metres from the line he split a gap between Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) and Adam Blythe (Tinkoff), leading the 2 home in that order. It’s easy to forget Ewan is just 21 years old with such a patient, well-timed sprint.

The field in Caleb’s wake looked neither casual nor relaxed.

“A bit of a shock to the system,” said Geraint Thomas.

From the gun, Astana sprinted from the line with three riders, including former Tour Down Under winner and GC contender Luis Leon Sanchez. The People’s Choice Classic is normally a lock for a bunch sprint finish, but that didn’t deter the Kazakh squad.

The main action for the first phase of the race was focused around four intermediate sprints on laps 5, 10, 15, and 20 that rewarded the first man over the line with 500euros. The first sprint went to Reinhardt Janse Van Rensburg (Dimension Data) who caught the peloton unaware by crossing to the other side of the road before powering to the line. Young Australian Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff) took the second sprint after a short break off the front, Chris Hamilton (UniSA) soloed for the third, and the final went to Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff) who attacked from a break group of three.

The main field spent much of the race controlled by Orica GreenEdge and Team Sky, apart from the occasional interruption caused by the intermediate sprints. The final 10 laps saw the Sky men-in-black string out the peloton with brutal pacemaking from Geraint Thomas and British National Road Racing Champion Peter Kennaugh.

The final two laps were hectic as the sprint trains fought for tarmac to deliver their fast men. Orica GreenEdge looked vulnerable as their line was whittled down to just Daryl Impey and Caleb Ewan. Cannondale Pro Cycling Team, and IAM Cycling had been invisible for the whole race but swamped the decimated GreenEdge line in the final lap. IAM led through the final turn but it was Trek-Segafredo’s Nizzolo who opened his sprint first. The diminutive Ewan overhauled the comparatively giant Nizzolo before punching the air in celebration as he crossed the line.

The young Australian is “delighted for the victory… [but] this is only the start of a long week.”

The win was a mirror of the Santos Women’s Tour crit held in the afternoon heat hours before on the same circuit. Annette Edmondson, returning to her hometown of Adelaide, road to victory with the help of her Wiggle Hi5 team. She tucked in safely in the centre of the pack for the 19 laps before teammate Chloe Hosking led her out Edmondson on the final lap.

Stage 1 of the Tour Down Under kicks off on Tuesday with a 130km stage from the Adelaide suburb of Prospect to the town of Lyndoch in the Barossa Valley wine region. Ewan will be one of the favourites on the flat stage with a slightly downhill sprint finish. South Australian summer will hit the field hard with 38°C forecast. Ewan is unfazed by the heat, feeling that “us Australians are more used to it than Europeans who came from winter.”

What were they thinking?

Team Sky rode the People’s Choice Classic criterium as if the maillot jaune was at stake rather than prize money. Geraint Thomas, one of the Tour Down Under favourites, was closing gaps as early as lap 4, and spent more time on the front than any other rider in the last 10 laps. Why?

“I was at the front to help Swifty [Ben Swift],” Geraint explains. “We hit the front early, and we knew we were never going to make it from that far out, but Swifty got an easy ride.”

Swifty, you owe Geraint a beer mate, and at least 1 “easy ride” before the Tour Down Under is over.