The inaugural Terra Australis race is shaping up as a battle between leading riders. By the end of the second stage on Monday, the Great Southern Land Epic had turned into a three-way tussle between early leaders, the Total Rush team and the TORQ Allstars. The seven-day race covers a total of 550km around the Victorian Highlands. It started from the ski resort of Falls Creek on Sunday.
A combination of altitude and three sharp climbs split the field on the first stage. The 79km stage to Mt Beauty saw a succession of punctures with many of the riders caught out after running lightweight tyres. The leading team Total Rush, including Mark Fenner and Sam Bach, had four punctures while the TORQ Allstars including Dan McConnell and Luke Fetch, suffered three punctures.
An early attack by Total Rush teammates Fenner and Bach resulted in a comfortable 35-minute lead over the KOM team of Warren Burgess and Zoe King. King, one of Australia's top elite women, described the final climb as "the toughest climb I have ever done!"
The first stage proved harder than many of the riders expected even though it was not the longest of the seven stages. The altitude and courses reminded many of riding overseas.
After stage one ended and the tyre discussion followed the riders prepared for the second stage. Stage two between Falls Creek and Dinner Plains ran 102km. Some smoke from a nearby back burning created an eerie backdrop as the TORQ Allstars started with vengeance. After beginning with a 34-minute deficit, the TORQ Allstars went straight on the attack.
The Total Rush team let them go, but by the first feed station, they had regained any lost ground. This was the catalyst for a second attack by the TORQ Allstars which Total Rush were again able to reign in before the TORQ team put in a one and a half minute gap between them and Total Rush by the second feed station. They extended the gap to seven minutes by the end of the stage.
Another favourite team containing Troy Bailey and Joel Donney was further back in the field after Bailey suffered from a virus during the first stage. The BMC team are currently one hour and 30 minutes off the leaders' pace but are expected to move up over the next few stages. Five stages remain.