The riders of WorldTour neophytes GreenEdge were the last to sign on for stage 1 of the Santos Tour Down Under. Following a lead-in that will have seemed an eternity to some, given that the project was nearly two years in the making, the professional peloton's newest outfit was clearly keen to just turn up and get the job done.
Following a difficult few days under an unwanted spotlight, due to an alleged "minor assault" of a chauffeur, Stuart O'Grady was driven to let his legs do the talking. His efforts in the 133-man bunch were typically gritty, spending an hour on the front in the sweltering, oven-like conditions trying to bring back the day's break containing Rohan Dennis (UniSA), Marcello Pavarin (Vacansoleil-DCM), Martin Kohler (BMC) and Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), whose lead stretched out to 11:20 at one point.
O'Grady should have had assistance from young motor Luke Durbridge, but the neo-pro was suffering from heat exhaustion, with temperatures on the road reported to have reached almost 50 degrees Celsius.
"Luke got a little fried today so we gave him another job, which was just to survive," explained sports director, Matt White.
O'Grady said that with GreenEdge essentially a man down out on the road, the team had to do what it could. "It wasn't exactly the plan but we had to improvise a bit," O'Grady explained. "Luke was suffering a bit from his accident the other day so we had to work round that.
"It was just horrific heat and wind out there," he continued. "We weren't getting much assistance.
"The wind was incredible and on our computers it was showing 49 degrees. It's just impossible to get the fluids in. It was a difficult day."
Given that stage 1 was a day for the pure sprinters, the peloton looked for the sprinters’ teams to work, with André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Mark Renshaw (Rabobank), Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), as well as GreenEdge's Matt Goss, all favourites to be in contention over the final few hundred metres.
Greipel was at first held up due to a crash just after the one kilometre to go banner, but recovered to come across the line first. As for GreenEdge, their highest-placed rider across the line was general classification favourite Simon Gerrans, who finished 35th on the same time as the German two-time winner of the event, but with time bonuses awarded is 10 seconds off the overall lead.
Goss, Robbie McEwen, Leigh Howard, defending champion Cameron Meyer, O'Grady and Durbridge were caught behind the crash and arrived in 1:40 behind Greipel but as the incident occurred within the final three kilometres, that deficit was expunged and they too are 10 seconds down on GC.
"When you put the world's best sprinters in the same race, there are more sprinters here than in the Tour de France because there are no mountains, so it makes it very competitive," White said of the chaotic last kilometre.
"Early-season racing, no matter where it is, is always a little sketchy. Everyone is keen to impress their new teams or team bosses; it makes it even more tricky here.
"A crash is a crash and we are happy to all be in one piece."
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