Australian champion Cadel Evans calls time on professional career. Photos by Graham Watson

Australia’s most decorated road cyclist Cadel Evans called time on his career today at an inaugural name title race that Belgian Gianni Meersman won.

Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) beat Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) and Nathan Haas (Cannondale-Garmin) in a small group sprint to be declared the first winner of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.

The 29-year-old entered the one-day race in Geelong, Victoria on the back of the Tour Down Under and was confident of his form during the event designed to emulate a spring classic.

“I really felt good so I said to the guys, ‘please ride as fast as you can to bring me to the finish, and I’ll do my best to finish it off,'” Meersman said. “It’s my first win of 2015 so of course I’m really happy.”

Evans was one of nine men including British national road champion Peter Kennaugh and Sky team-mate Luke Rowe that contested the headwind finish at the end of the unpredictable 174km race. Sky riders were given a free role in the event, which Kennaugh was particularly aggressive throughout. Rowe, with the Manxman’s support, launched an early sprint for the line but faded in the last 100m, placing a respectable fourth.

>>> Cadel Evans: Highs and lows of a 20-year career

“I’m happy to have made it in such a select group given I’m not a climber, but then to mess up a sprint like that when you haven’t got many opportunities is quite frustrating,” Rowe said.

Evans marked the end of a career, spanning some 20 years, in front of mass crowds that spanned all around the circuit course despite poor weather.

“Trying to win the race was my main concentration but I really had to remind myself today it was a moment I had to enjoy as well,” Evans said. “Because it is my last month I’ve appreciated it. It’s been a real pleasure.”

The peloton set-out at 11.20am local time in conditions more akin to a bad day in Belgium than Australian summer with grey sky and rain contributing to a more conservative start. Riders travelled along rolling roads and through coastal towns close to Evans’s Australia base of Barwon Heads before hitting the selective finishing circuit.

The 20.2km circuit, which the peloton lapped three times, included aspects of the 2010 UCI Road World Championships course and with three successive climbs proved to be selective.

The first main break including Laurent Didier (Trek), Marco Frapporti (Androni-Giocattoli), Josh Taylor (ChasrterMason-Giant) and Darcy Woolley (African Wildlife Safaris) escaped within the opening 15km of the race with Brodie Talbot (Budget Forklifts) bridging across later. The group marked a maximum time advantage of five minutes but was eventually caught with Cannondale-Garmin setting a furious pace, splitting the main group in crosswinds some 90km in, where the race began in earnest. From there it was all about attacks, counter-attacks, tactics and legs.

Rachel Neylan (Building Champions) celebrated a solo victory in the women’s race on Saturday ahead of Valentina Scandolova (Orica-AIS) and Tessa Fabry (High5 Dream Team).

Results
Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2015, 174km
1. Gianni Meersman (Bel) Etixx-Quick Step 4-15-22

2. Simon Clarke (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
3. Nathan Haas (Aus) Cannondale-Garmin
4. Luke Rowe (GBr) Sky
5. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC
6. Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Katusha
7. Moreno Moser (Ita) Cannondale-Garmin
8. Danilo Wyss (Sui) BMC
9. Peter Kennaugh (GBr) Sky at 7secs
10. Heinrich Haussler (Aus) IAM at 9secs

Richie Porte and Cadel Evans in the 2015 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

Richie Porte and Cadel Evans in the 2015 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

Ian Stannard leads an escape in the 2015 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

Ian Stannard leads an escape in the 2015 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

Ian Stannard in the 2015 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

Ian Stannard in the 2015 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

Cyclists in the 2015 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

Cyclists in the 2015 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

Peter Kennaugh attacks in the 2015 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

Peter Kennaugh attacks in the 2015 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

Cannondale-Garmin attack in the 2015 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

Cannondale-Garmin attack in the 2015 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

Gianni Meersman wins the 2015 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

Gianni Meersman wins the 2015 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race