The three-time world champion avoided two late crashes on the final lap and looked to be Ewan's most threatening challenger as the remnants of the peloton headed towards the sprint finish. Sagan was on Ewan's wheel as the line approached but he had no answer when Ewan was dropped off by his leadout man Roger Kluge and opened up his sprint inside the final 100m. The Australian won by a clear distance, although Sagan had enough in the tank to beat Alex Edmondson (Mitchelton-Scott) into third.
The criterium - which acts as the curtain raiser for the Tour Down Under - saw a number of early attacks but both Lotto Soudal and Bora controlled affairs for most of the hour-long race. On the final lap two crashes took place with the second one reducing the peloton to just a few riders. Sagan and Ewan made it through safely and Sagan's teammate Daniel Oss attacked immediately in order to force Ewan and his leadout man Roger Kluge into a desperate chase. However, Kluge had more than enough to nullify Oss and stop the Italian from winning on his 32nd birthday.
"There was a first crash here, after the finish line, the first left turn on the first corner. After that everybody was in a line because they all sped up in the front. The last crash was with 800m to go and I was on the right side [of the road] and on my left side I had my teammate Lukas [Pöstlberger] and I think he crashed first," Sagan said at the finish. However, it appeared that the first faller was a rider from Deceuninck-QuickStep.
"He passed on my left side and crashed and I think I was the last rider to get past him and then after it wasn't really a bunch sprint. Daniel [Oss] tried to attack and make some difficulties for Caleb [Ewan] but he still had one teammate and after they caught Daniel, Caleb was faster than me especially now in this period [of the season]."
Sagan is taking a gentler approach to the start of the season than in previous years. Earlier in the week he told Cyclingnews that his training has been less intense this winter as he looks to peak later in the season and hold his form until Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The Tour Down Under has become a recent fixture in his calendar, however, and he will remain a major stage threat throughout the race when it officially begins on Tuesday. At the finish Sagan admitted that Ewan was the faster finisher.
"I am OK with second place, it's OK. The criterium last year was also surprising for me when I won. Normally, I think he's faster for a criterium like this. I am ok, I am very happy I didn't crash and this is the opening of my season."