Serving as the prologue to the Santos Tour Down Under, People’s Choice Classic is a closed circuit race, held on an all new 2km circuit close to the Adelaide CBD. It is the first hit out of the season, and while not technically a stage of the TDU, it was one of the few chances for the sprinters.
The curtain raiser was the first of three stages of the Santos Women’s Cup. In the format of a timed criterium of 30 minutes plus 2 laps, the women put on a show highlighting just how exciting the often overlooked women’s racing is. With the eventual winner Loes Gunnewijk staying away in a solo break for over 15 minutes, despite the efforts of Bridie O’Donnell late in the race to bridge the gap in a 2 woman break, with Gunnewijk’s Orica-AIS team mate, who, as expected, did little to assist O’Donnell. Eventually the chase pair were re-caught by the bunch, and Orica, capitalised on their perfect team tactics to complete a 1-2-3 with Melissa Hoskins 2nd and Annette Edmondson 3rd.
As the sun started to set, it was then time for the men to line up. There was, what appeared to be an intimate exchange between Caleb Ewen and Cadel Evans as the old dog pulled the debutant to one side during the warm up. Perhaps passing on some words of wisdom to the up and coming rider many see as Australia’s next great hope.
As the race got underway, there were a couple of attempted breaks, before a 4 person break of Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp) emerged to win the first sprint from Luca Wackermann (Lampre-Merida) and Axel Domont (Ag2R-La Mondiale) and Anthony Roux (FDJ.fr) powered out to a 40s lead. The break managed to maintain a handy gap to the peloton, and contested the first three of the four prime laps up for grabs. Nathan Haas got the jump in all three of these adding nicely to the team’s early season coffers. With just 10 laps to go, Domont attacked the clearly fading break. Haas, Wackermann, Roux immediately sat up to return to the group. With one prime lap remaining, Dormott was quickly reeled in, initiating a series of counter attacks. Team Sky working for Chris Sutton attempted to take control at the front with Irishman Philip Deignan taking the fourth prime.
With the minor sprints done, the Lotto Belisol assembled their lead out train, but ran out of riders a little early, forcing Andre Greipel to start his run to the line a little earlier than he may have liked. This allowed the Giant Shimano’s Marcel Kittel to fly past and win by less than half a wheel, with Caleb Ewen riding smartly in to 3rd to give the locals something to cheer about.
Earlier in the race, Movistar’s Giovanni Visconti went down heavily in a crash involving around 25 riders. While most of the riders managed to continue, the Italian was taken away in an ambulance with a suspected broken leg.
Monday is a rest day for the men, with the first real stage, Nuriootpa to Angaston commencing on Tuesday. While in the Santos Women’s Cup the 98km Road Race at Angaston will commence at 12pm.