A messy crash with 1 km to go summed up a brutal day, at Stage 1 of Tour Down Under on Monday, Jan. 17. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) pulled off the sprint victory despite the tough day for the peloton, besting Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) in a photo finish. Fabio Sabatini (Liquigas-Cannondale) finished third. Unfortunately, the Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team got caught up in the crash before they could contest the final sprint.
"I crashed today at about 800 meters from the finish," Omega Pharma - Quick-Step rider Gert Steegmans said. "I was leading the sprint for Ciolek but suddenly somebody felt down in front of me. I couldn't avoid it and I crashed my self, fortunately without consequences. I have only some bruises on my right leg and elbow. Nothing serious."
The conditions truly tested the will of the 133 riders who started the race. Temperatures reached more than 40 degrees celsius, and wind gusts reached about 35 km per hour.
The scorching heat and blustery winds may have allowed a four man break — Rohan Dennis (UniSA Australia) Marcello Pavarin (Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team) and Martin Kohler (BMC Racing Team)— to stay away for about 133 km of a 149 km race from Prospect to Clare. Many riders chose deep dish aerodynamic wheels for the race, but with crosswinds and headwinds throughout, the pace remained slow. Riders fed constantly throughout the race, including some riders asking for more food in the last handful of kilometers.
The peloton split into five groups all over the road 20 km into the race to deal with a particularly tough crosswind, just when they decided to chase the four man breakaway. The pace accelerated to 55 km per hour when the chasing field hit the crosswind.
"Today it was a hard day," Steegmans said. "High speed, high temperature...but the condition is good. We will see tomorrow how the things will be."
The peloton backed off 29 km into the race, riding at 25-30km per hour while the break worked well together and sped along at more than 40 km per hour. The breakaway's gap quickly increased to as much as 11 minutes and 40 seconds, with 111 km remaining (38 km in). That is where the gap remained until about 50 km remained in the 149 km race.
The chasing field chipped away at the gap, slowly, but surely, as temperatures began to drop to 33 degrees and clouds began to roll in.
Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team riders chose not to work at the front of the field during the chase, leaving energy for the downhill finish in Clare. There was a significant headwind reported at the finish line.
Finally, as the gap was down to 250 meters with 13 km remaining, Dennis decided he'd attack the break and attempt to extend his time away from the peloton a bit longer. However, his effort was for naught, as the peloton absorbed all breakaway members with 8 km remaining in the race.
Will Clark (UniSA Australia) animated the race, attacking with 5 km to go. He worked himself into a 250 meter lead. He was quickly caught by the peloton, however.
"Some great riding by @opqscyclingteam in stage one of @tourdownunder," Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team rider Matt Brammeier tweeted immediately after the race. "Last kilometer crash ruined any chances for us. Tomorrow is another day."