Although surprising himself, Robbie McEwen of Davitamon-Lotto surprised no-one else when he took the yellow jersey on the first night of the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under. "I honestly didn't expect to do well today," the recently crowned Australian champion said after the stage. "I am still suffering from the championships, but I figure that the others are suffering too, because either they were in the championships too, or they have came straight from European winter."
Like last year, the cycling season's starter took off with a criterium in the East End of Adelaide. A two kilometre lap was to be contested 25 times, and the attacks were on from the first lap when Dave McPartland of United Water set off. The peloton was quick on his wheels, and one of the favourites for the stage win, Graeme Brown of Ceramiche Panaria Navigare took his chance already on the second lap. Graeme told Cyclingnews before the stage that he didn't have the best of form, but that he'd give it a try. Shortly after Brown's break was eliminated, David Betts of United Water and Stephen Cunningham of UniSA took off in a break that got the biggest gap of the stage...a mere ten seconds.
After four laps, the peloton was stretched like a bungy cord, and many riders were willing to give it a go at the front. After eight laps, Davitamon-Lotto and Cofidis sent their strong men to the front, but that didn't stop the other riders from continuing their attacks. After 20 kilometres, the first sprint was contested, and Gene Bates of UniSA raced aggressively and took the sprint out in a convincing way. With good assistance from his team he also took out the second sprint at kilometre 40 and secured the sprinters jersey for at least one stage. "My objective is really a top five placing in the general classification, and the climber's jersey, but now I've got the sprinter's jersey, and that's not too bad either," Bates told Cyclingnews after the stage.
At this point of the race, most of the stars wanted to try their wings, and jumps were made by McEwen, Cadel Evans from Davitamon-Lotto and Stuart O'Grady from Cofidis, although none were given the freedom they wanted. With three laps to go, Liberty Seguros was moving up its squad to the front, and Spanish celebrity Isidro Nozal took off for a short solo show at the front. A crash took out a handful of riders, just within the three kilometre limit where the same time is given to those who abandon due to crashing, but the fall wasn't affecting the front where the riders were lining up for the likely sprint.
Ceramiche Panaria was showing off their full colours at the front with two kilometres to go, and it was looking all set for Graeme Brown, but Lotto-Davitamon had more to give and joined up at the front. However, heading towards the last stretch of the road, O'Grady surprised them all when he took off in a flying attack and entered the finishing straight first. Allan Davis from Liberty Seguros did a strong job to catch O'Grady just before the line, but could do nothing about super strong Robbie McEwen who was right on his wheel and came around him in the last metres.
"My team worked great for me, especially towards the end," Robbie said before the prize ceremony. "O'Grady took off and surprised us all, and we had to work hard to get him back in time. Allan Davis chased closest, and I got on his wheel. Although I have won the first stage before, this is the first time I actually have a time bonus on the others. Unfortunately it's no simple task to take the jersey all the way home. Normally it's the strongest rider who wins the race, but you never know when a break could go. Also I feel a bit shaky now. I think I got a bit lactic, although I probably shouldn't be telling you that. It's nothing that a good rub down can't fix though."
Gene Bates, who won the two sprints, will start tomorrow's stage in Salisbury in the sprinters jersey, and David McPartland of United Water will dress himself in the KOM jersey tomorrow, thanks to him being the highest placed rider in last years king of the mountain competition taking part this year.
Queenslander Aaron Kemps of Liberty Seguros won the young riders jersey, and United Water's David Betts received the jersey for being the most aggressive rider.
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