At first, CCC Team's Patrick Bevin wasn't given much credit for having won stage 2 of the 2019 Tour Down Under in Angaston on Wednesday. Almost everyone had assumed that the bright-orange-clad rider who had got the better of Lotto Soudal's Caleb Ewan and three-time world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) in the race for the line was CCC's designated sprinter Jakub Mareczko.
It took a couple of minutes for the news to filter through: Bevin, who had taken enough bonus seconds while in a breakaway on Tuesday's opening stage to put himself into third overall going into the second day, was the day's winner, and the 10-second stage winner's bonus had also been enough to give him the race lead, deposing overnight leader Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep), who could only finish seventh.
"The team was riding for Mareczko," Bevin confirmed, "but I had a free role. They were going to try to lead him out, but obviously with me chasing the GC here, I had to stay up there and not lose time.
"We knew it was a tough finish," he said. "We'd 'reconned' it, so it was a case of, 'If it happens, it happens,' but the finish was really tough. It was on for the last five kilometres - full gas - because otherwise the day had been quite easy, so it just became about looking after what I could do for me, and I happened to pick up a teammate [Fran Ventoso] after it got separated [due to the crash] and that was a big help to deliver me in the last kilometre."
Bevin explained that it wasn't really until with two kilometres to go that he thought he might have a chance.
"The road kind of dragged up there, and I got myself into a really good position, on the shoulder of the road, out of the wind," he said. "Just as the crash happened, I was starting to move up and come around, and then the Astana rider, Luis Leon Sanchez, went off the front, and so I thought I'd try to pick him up and use him as a springboard, as I knew that in a straight sprint I wasn't going to be able to beat those other guys.
"I had to take it long and capitalise on how hard the finish was. That was my play, and it worked out really well."
Bevin now leads Viviani by five seconds and Ewan by nine, but with the race about to head truly uphill for stage 3 on Thursday, you have to look down the general classification to 15th place to find defending champion Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott), 15 seconds in arrears, with further overall favourites such as Jumbo-Visma's George Bennett, Katusha-Alpecin's Nathan Haas and Michael Woods (EF Education First) down in 23rd, 24th and 25th with the same deficit.
"It's still a long week from here," Bevin said. "We've had the two easy days, so we'll now look to tomorrow. And tomorrow's tough. This is my fourth time at the Tour Down Under, and I think it's the toughest stage I've ever done. We've ridden the circuit, and it looks very, very hard, but we'll look at trying to put a plan together.
"Leading the race changes your tactics a bit," he added. "Obviously it means you have to absorb a bit more pressure, but I feel now as though we're in a great position to box on for the next four stages."
As his first WorldTour victory, Bevin hopes that his win could spell the start of something special for CCC Team, who have carried on from BMC Racing, which lost two of its big stars - Richie Porte and Rohan Dennis, to Trek-Segafredo and Bahrain-Merida, respectively - at the end of last season.
"I wouldn't have put money on it being a sprint like that today. I've been working so hard on my time trialling to kind of take my career that way, and then I kind of drop one of these in there," Bevin smiled. "In the last few years [as BMC], we haven't really had guys sprinting. But we were third yesterday, and close, and then today we won it. I think it sets a precedent for the season.
"Like I said yesterday, when I stood here having taken the most-aggressive rider prize, we're going to fight for everything we can get. This is a different outfit with a totally different mindset and totally different goals. We want to turn that into wins."
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