Greipel back in ochre

2008 Tour Down Under champion, Andre Greipel from Columbia-High Road has opened his victory account for 2009 with an impressive sprint win in Mawson Lakes at the end of the 140km first stage from Norwood.

Greipel crossed the line in 3hr45min27sec edging out 2003 Tour de France sprint champion, Baden Cooke (UniSA-Australia) and hometown hero, Stuart O’Grady (Saxo Bank) who finished second and third respectively in a bunch sprint for line honours.

Greipel’s win has put him in the leader’s ochre jersey with a five second buffer to Cooke while Belgian Olivier Kaisen sits in third place overall also at five seconds.

Conditions were very hot and windy today as the race headed from the outskirts of Adelaide but that didn’t stop 88,000 loyal fans setting up camp on the side of the road to cheer on the world class field.

“I had a really good lead-out from everyone, and at the end we had good luck on our side,” said Greipel. “Before when we passed the finish I said we have to wait a long time before we take the lead and yeah the guys they hurt and I said on the radio now we take the lead and they did it.”

The race proper began at Gepps Cross and went through the finish line shortly after the start and headed out into the countryside before returning to Mawson Lakes in the opposite direction for the finish.

“Today I think we were the strongest team,” said Greipel. “I think tomorrow is a hard stage and we will see what’s going on tomorrow, hopefully it’s not so hot.

” Now we have the leader’s jersey we have to defend it.”

Almost as soon as the flag dropped to start the race Kaisen and Spaniard Andoni Lafuente (Euskaltel-Euskadi) launched an attack by the six kilometre mark were one minute clear. The bunch seemed content to let them gather the points and time bonuses on offer in the first 95 kilometres of the race with Kaisen collecting the wins in both SA Lotteries Sprints at One Tree Hill (30.3km) and at Sandy Creek (95.6km) to earn the lead in the sprinter’s classification while Lafuente collected the maximum points in the Skoda King of the Mountain at Gould Creek (39.3km) and Checker Hill (61km) to be leading the climber’s classification. He also scored four seconds worth of bonuses on the sprints to put him in the lead in the Cycle Instead Best Young Rider (under 25) classification.

Australian Will Walker (Fuji-Servetto) tried to bridge the gap to the pair and was in no mans land for fifty odd kilometres before the bunch swallowed him up.

Meantime the men in front increased their lead to almost six minutes before the peloton upped the pace and began to drag them back. When the leaders were within a minute of the the chase local youngster, Jack Bobridge, 19, (UniSA-Australia), broke clear bridging the gap and then going on with his solo charge. But Columbia – High Road and the other sprinter’s teams could smell a bunch sprint fiknish and fired up over the fast flat roads in the final 20 kilometres putting paid to Bobridge’s chances of stealing a win.

Robbie McEwen (Katusha), who won the Cancer Council Classic curtainraiser event on Sunday night, was looking good for his second win in three days before an over enthusiastic spectator leaned too far over the barriers collecting McEwen’s right arm with a camera lens and bringing his sprint to an end. McEwen did well to stay on his bike but slipped back to finish fourth. His right forearm was badly bruised and is being treated in a bid to bring down the swelling in the hope he can be back on his bike tomorrow for Stage Two.

“I just started my sprint and the boys lead out the sprint well – (Gert) Steegmans took me to just inside 200 to go and I then went across to the right hand side of the road allowing for the wind from left to right,” explained McEwen. “I was not all that close to the barriers but when I started my sprint and had just changed into the biggest gear to really make my final sprint for the line some genius in the crowd decided they wanted to get an action photo and reached right out over the barriers with a really big camera.

” I saw it and I just couldn’t do anything, it was impossible to avoid and it hit me straight on the (right) forearm,” he said. “It’s broken the skin and I have a wound in the shape of the camera lens.

“I’m really surprised it didn’t take myself and all the others down, because I was in the lead and lucky I didn’t crash because that would have been a disaster and brought everyone down.

“What they did ruined my day but it could have ruined the race, ruined my entire season or worse.”

The Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, was on hand to present the Tour Down Under leader’s ochre jersey to Greipel and to meet seven time Tour de France champion, Lance Armstrong after the stage finish.

Tomorrow the race begins in Hahndorf and will travel 145 kilometres through the Adelaide Hills before the finish in Stirling.

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