Caleb Ewan avoided a final lap crash to win the Down Under Classic in Adelaide, giving him his first win of the season in his new colours of Lotto-Soudal.
In the southern Australian city of Adelaide, Ewan was fastest under the baking sun, holding off Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) by a bike length, with a number of other pre-race favourites caught up in a crash 500 metres before the finishing line.
The win is Ewan's third in the race, bringing him level with André Greipel's record number of victories and making him the most prolific home rider in the race's 14-year history. Sagan had to settle for second, unable to repeat his 2018 triumph.
The hour-long plus one lap criterium, raced around Rymill Park in the city, isn't part of the UCI's calendar, but it still attracts a strong line-up given that it takes place just 48 hours before the Tour Down Under.
A number of riders were making their debuts for new teams, including Richie Porte for Trek-Segafredo, following his off-season move from the now-defunct BMC Racing.
Brit Adam Blythe raced in Lotto-Soudal colours on his return to the WorldTour, representing the Belgian outfit eight years since he last did. The Yorkshireman was working on behalf of Ewan, who was making his maiden bow for the team.
The first lap of the 1.7km circuit was completed in two minutes, 11 seconds, and it wasn't long before a lead group consisting of four Australians formed: William Clarke (Trek-Segafredo), Lachlan Morton (Education-First), Ben O'Connor (Dimension Data), and Neil van der Ploeg (Australia) at the head of the race, holding a time advantage of 25 seconds for the most part.
The Lead Out: January 2019 - Tour Down Under and season preview
The peloton behind, containing hungry sprinters Sagan, Ewan and Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick Step), caught the breakaway group on lap 16, though. A new four-man group emerged, that included Manuele Boara (Astana) who took the fourth and final prime.
The quartet, however, were sucked back into the main bunch as the sprint teams took it in turns to drive the catch, ensuring it was their protected rider who would take victory.
A crash in the penultimate lap ruined the chances of Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain-Merida), and as the race speed increased in the final lap, it was Team Sky who were setting the pace.
As the bunch rounded a bend with half-a-kilometre to go, a crash brought down a multitude of riders including Viviani. Less than a dozen riders avoided the pile-up, and Daniel Oss (Bora-Hansgrohe) tried his luck, jumping clear and building a small advantage.
But Ewan's lead-out man Roger Kluge soon took the lead, bringing with him Ewan, Sagan and Alexander Edmondson (Mitchelton-Scott). Kluge swung left to give Ewan a clean run to the line.
Even though Sagan had the advantage of drafting in the Pocket Rocket's slipstream, when he darted right in an effort to pass Ewan, he was unable to do so, the 24-year-old fending off the three-time world champion by more than a bike's length. Edmondson finished third.
2019 Down Under Classic, Adelaide
1. Caleb Ewan (Aus) Lotto-Soudal, in 1.03:59
2. Peter Sagan (Slo) Bora-Hansgrohe
3. Alexander Edmondson (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott, both at same time
4. Roger Kluge (Ger) Lotto-Soudal, at 2 seconds
5. Daniel Oss (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 4 seconds
6. Owain Doull (GBr) Team Sky, at 5 seconds
7. Luke Rowe (GBr) Team Sky
8. Luis Leon Sanchez (Esp) Astana
9. Marco Haller (Aus) Katusha-Alpecin
10. Francisco Ventoso (Esp) CCC Team, all at 9 seconds
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