Neil van der Ploeg (Avanti RacingTeam) recovered from two falls to take a spectacular win in slippery Tasmanian conditions, powering ahead of Steele von Hoff (Garmin-Sharp) to claim the Stan Siejka Launceston Cycling Classic crown.
With Team Sky duo Richie Porte and Chris Froome withdrawing from the race for safety reasons, all eyes turned Caleb Ewan, winner of last year’s race and U23 silver medallist at the World Championships. Yet the Orica-GreenEdge sprinter crashed in the latter stages of the race, opening up the field for van der Ploeg to surge home after two-man breakaway was caught on the final lap.
With moderate rainfall causing havoc, the 27-year-old was forced to use all his mountain biking nous to navigate a treacherously slick city circuit. Even those skills could not prevent a few crashes though, from which van der Ploeg recovered quickly to remain in the main bunch.
"After the first crash I completely forgot you can take a lap out, I was just that fired up in these wet conditions," he admitted. "So the second time I just thought straight away ‘take a lap out.’ It does shake your confidence a bit, but you just have to keep on going."
The Avanti rider has become something of a fixture at the Launceston event, after winning the 2012 edition and finishing second last year. "I have had a really good run at this race, but I was not really expecting a win today, so I’m stoked. Couldn’t ask for much more!"
Froome and his deputy Porte elected to retire earlier in the race after conditions worsened, with the former Tour de France winner wanting to minimise any risk of injury. "It gets a bit sketchy on the corners where guys are crashing everywhere, and the main thing for us was to stay safe," Froome commented after his withdrawal.
When asked about the British rider’s decision, race winner van der Ploeg was sympathetic. "It’s completely understandable. Those guys have massive goals with the Tour de France etc, and they are also not the type of riders that like this sort of race. They gave it a crack, and pretty much everyone else pulled out as well."
For von Hoff, the podium position replicated his second placing at Saturday’s kermesse. "I was in a good position, but then Bernie Sulzberger came out underneath me on the inside," he said. "I had to open it up a bit early and Neil was just too strong, I couldn’t get around him in the end.
Froome draws Tasmanian crowds
Despite his withdrawal, the British rider’s presence proved a significant boost for the race, with Launceston’s streets full of bystanders eager to watch the cycling superstar. van der Ploeg paid credit to Froome and Porte after the race, thanking them for raising the profile of the two-day event.
"It’s a real honour to race with those guys," he reflected. "They’re at the very top of the sport, so for them to come down and race in Launceston – you can feel the vibe and the excitement that it brings. I’m really thankful for them to come down and race with us."
Wonderful Wells in women’s bunch sprint
Earlier in the day, Kimberley Wells (Roxsolt) outpaced Australian national road champion Gracie Elvin (Orica-AIS) to secure victory in the women’s criterium. As the Launceston skies turned from blue to grey, Wiggle Honda and Orica-AIS battled it out across the city streets, with new British recruit Eileen Roe (Wiggle Honda) dominant early.
Yet despite the best attempts of several breakaway groups, no attack was able to able to distance themselves from former national criterium title-holder Wells. Approaching the final straight, she swung around Elvin and powered away to take the win, overcoming residual tiredness from a tough day in the saddle.
"I had to be very careful in the last two laps to flush out some soreness in the legs following all those attacks," Wells admitted after the race.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team|
|1||Neil van der Ploeg (Aus) Avanti Racing|
|2||Steele Von Hoff (Aus) Garmin-Sharp|
|3||Bernie Sulzberger (Aus)|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team|
|1||Kimberley Wells (Aus) Roxsolt|
|2||Gracie Elvin (Aus) Orica-AIS|
|3||Eileen Roe (GBr) Wiggle Honda|
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