Credit Agricole’s Mark Renshaw has taken out stage 1 of the 2008 Tour Down Under. In something of a rarity for the opening day’s racing, the boy from Bathurst, New South Wales won in a bunch sprint.

The 129 km stage took riders from Mawson Lakes into the picturesque Barossa Valley – home to some of the finest wines Australia has to offer.

All the pre-stage talk was if a breakaway would again succeed and dwindle down the overall contenders to just a select few. Riders and directors believed that although there would be escapees, all teams had too much to play for in the first ProTour race of the year and a sprint would determine the winner.

The day’s only King of the Mountain points were on offer after just 12 kilometres of racing. No significant attacks took place on the Gould Creek climb which saw Francaise Des Jeux’s Philippe Gilbert take maximum points.

A group of 7 tried their luck shortly after and managed to get a gap of 30 seconds on the peloton before they were reeled back in.

At the 40km mark, a group of three including Cofidis’ team leader Mickael Buffaz, UniSA’s Richie Porte and Bouygues Telecom’s Dimitri Champion were able to break free, and a watchful peloton allowed them to quickly build up a gap.

Buffaz, Champion and Porte took the first intermediate sprint and claimed a bonus 3, 2 and 1 seconds respectively.

By the half-way point of the stage, the hardworking trio had increased their lead to nearly 7 minutes. This kick-started the peloton into life and the chase was now on.

The second and final intermediate sprint was identical to the first, and with just over 40 kilometres of racing remaining, the gap had been reduced to 5 minutes with Credit Agricole and Team CSC doing the majority of the work on the front.

Unfortunately for the breakaway their efforts looked doomed as slowly but surely the gap was coming down. However the trio deserve much credit for their aggression as they never gave up hope of getting to the line first.

It may be the first race of the season but the peloton calculated their catch to perfection – rounding the escapees up with just 3 kilometres to go. Now it was time for the sprinters’ teams to earn their pay.

Renshaw, who won the Classic Down Under in 2007 and was runner up in Sunday’s race, returned the great faith shown by his dilligent team mates and completed a strong sprint to get home in front of Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Caisse D’Epargne) and Robabank’s Graeme Brown.

Renshaw’s win also earns the sprinter 10 bonus seconds and the leader’s Ochre Jersey.

Stage Results:

1. Mark Renshaw (C.A.) 3:13:33
2. Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (GCE)
3. Graeme Brown (RAB)
4. Allan Davis (UNI)
5. Jan Robert Forster (GST)
6.Stuart O’Grady (CSC)
7. Matthew Hayman (RAB)
8. Andre Greipel (THR)
9. Lloyd Mondory (ALM)
10. Murilo Antonio Fischer (LIQ)


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