Jay McCarthy became the first Australian to win the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, the Bora-Hansgrohe man beating Elia Viviani in a sprint in Geelong.
The race in homage to the 2011 Tour de France winner looked like it was probably going to be won by a climber in the closing stages, but the sprinters reemerged in the final kilometres to have the last say.
As a chaotic sprint unfolded in the finishing straight, McCarthy sprung through as the quickest, beating Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) on the line.
Mitchleton-Scott's Daryl Impey, the recent Tour Down Under winner, finished third. The win for McCarthy, 25, continues his promising start to the season; he recorded three top-10 finishes at the Tour Down Under.
After the opening WorldTour race of the season at the Tour Down Under, the world's best remained in Australia for the first one-day WorldTour race of the 2018 campaign, with arguably the strongest field in the race's history lining up.
The fourth edition of the race, that no Australian had yet to win despite three successive second-placed finishes, started and finished in Geelong, taking in the local countryside first before completing four laps of a 16.8km circuit in Geelong, including the short but steep climb of Challambra Crescent.
How it unfolded
The race's break formed as soon as the flag dropped without any resistance from the peloton. In it was Alex Porter and Sam Welsford, representing Australia, Lasse Norman Hansen (Aqua Blue Sport), Pavel Kocketkov (Katusha-Alpecin) and Robbert De Greef (Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij).
Under intense heat of 40 degrees, the time gap immediately began to stretch and the five-man break was quickly over six minutes ahead of the bunch.
As the race wound its way through Barwon Heads - the home town of Cadel Evans - and the exposed roads in nearby countryside, it was the first climb of Challambra when the peloton were really tested, the large group splintering temporarily.
With 50km to go, the bunch began to ramp up their speed and up the road, five became three, De Greef and Welsford dropping back. With little more than 30km remaining, Porter fell back too, leaving just Hansen and Kochetkov to lead up the climb of Challambra for the penultimate time.
Tim Roe (Australia) attacked with less than 20km to go, but he was stuck in no man's land, with the two leaders obtaining a lead of 40 seconds, ensuring the race would be decided not by the escapees but on the final lap.
At 15km, the peloton were grouped all together. As teams took it in turns to lead up the climb, George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) struck first on the steepest sections, with the bunch strung out.
A select group of nine formed together and the climbers sensed their opportunity again on the short Meville climb. Ag2a La Mondiale's Pierre Latour attacked, as did Daniel Oss of Bora-Hansgrohe. Both, however, failed to keep away and the front group merged together.
Just a bit behind, the chasing peloton containing the sprinters were rapidly approaching with the flamme rouge just hundreds of metres away, and they eventually caught up just in time to force a bunch sprint, which McCarthy won ahead of Viviani and Impey.
McCarthy said after the finish that the result makes up for his ride in the Tour Down Under.
"I was a bit disappointed with my performance at the Tour Down Under, but I came with confidence to Geelong and wanted to achieve a good result," said McCarthy.
"It was good that Daniel [Oss] was with me in the last kilometre. We had Chaves and Viviani on our heels and it motivated me to have a teammate there in the final. I’m really happy to end my racing in Australia in this way."
The UCI WorldTour continues with the Abu Dhabi Tour on February 21-25. Meanwhile, racing in Australia continues with the Jayco Herald Sun Tour over February 1-5.
Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. Geelong to Geelong, 164km
1. Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe, in 4-04-00
2. Elia Viviani (Ita) Quick-Step Floors
3. Daryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-Scott
4. Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quick Step Floors
5. Simon Gerrans (Aus) BMC Racing
6. Nikias Arndt (Ger) Team Sunweb
7. Steele von Hoff (Aus) Australia
8. Maurits Lammertink (Ned) Katusha-Alpecin
9. Enrico Battaglin (Ita) LottoNL-Jumbo
10. Lars Bak (Den) Lotto-Soudal, all same time
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