The first road stage of the Herald Sun Tour was split to pieces by crosswinds as Lasse Norman Hansen (Aqua Blue Sport) took the stage win, which also moved him into the overall lead as former leader Ed Clancy (JLT Condor) was dropped.
The early part of the race was relatively benign as a six-strong group consisting of Daniel Whitehouse (Interpro Stradalli), Oliver Martin (Brisbane Continental), Matt Ross (KordaMentha- Australia), Brad Evans (Mobius BridgeLane), Liam Magennis (Drapac–EF p/b Cannondale), and Kane Richards (McDonalds Downunder) established a four-minute gap as JLT Condor, protecting the yellow jersey of Clancy, worked to keep breakaway under control.
With a stiff breeze blowing, the peloton seemed nervous as it approached a section of road along the coast with around 80km to go, but it was not until around 50km later that the wind really made itself felt.
At around 30km to go as the race turned inland, the race’s two WorldTour teams, Mitchelton-Scott and Trek-Segafredo, moved to the front of the bunch as echelons began to form, creating panic behind with a number of crashes sweeping through the bunch.
The yellow jersey of Clancy was one of the riders caught on the wrong side of the split as a group of 29 riders were able to get away before keeping the pressure on to drop the rest of the peloton and catch the breakaway with 15km remaining.
Once the breakaway was caught, the attacks started once again as the group was further slimmed down to the nine riders who would eventually contest the finish in Warrnambool. However with the strong sprinters of Hansen, Steele von Hoff (Bennelong SwissWellness) and Koen De Kort (Trek-Segafredo) in the group, the less punchy riders were not going to be content to ride to the line.
With that in mind, the last major attack came from defending champion Damien Howson (Mitchelton-Scott), who went early with just under a kilometre to go.
A former under-23 time trial world champion, Howson’s move looked a strong one, but he was the victim of a committed chase by Ruben Guerreiro (Trek-Segafredo) as the Portuguese national champion tried to set up team-mate De Kort for the win.
Guerreiro wasn’t able to catch Howson, but he was able to bring the group to within touching distance of the Australian’s back wheel, with Lasse Norman Hansen proving to have the fastest finish at the end of a tough day of racing to catch Howson within the final 100m and out-sprint Von Hoff and Cameron Meyer (Mitchelton-Scott) to take the stage win.
The race will continue on Friday with stage two from Warrnambool to Ballarat, including a climb of Mount Buninyong which is crested just 7.2km before the finish.
Herald Sun Tour 2018, stage one: Colac to Warrnambool, 161.6.km
1. Lasse Norman Hansen (Den) Aqua Blue Sport, in 3-36-57
2. Steele von Hoff (Aus) Bennelong SwissWellness
3. Cameron Meyer (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott
4. Koen De Kort (Ned) Trek-Segafredo
5. Thomas Stewart (GBr) JLT Condor
6. Jeroen Meijers (Ned) Roompot – Nederlandse Loterij
7. Damien Howson (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott
8. Cameron Bayly (Aus) Bennelong SwissWellness, all at same time
9. Ruben Guerreiro (Por) Trek-Segafredo, at 3 secs
10. Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo, at 23 secs
46. Ed Clancy (GBr) JLT Condor, at 1-21
General classification after stage one
1. Lasse Norman Hansen (Den) Aqua Blue Sport, in 3-38-41
2. Cameron Meyer (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott, at 9 secs
3. Steele von Hoff (Aus) Bennelong SwissWellness, at 10 secs
4. Cameron Bayly (Aus) Bennelong SwissWellness, at 14 secs
5. Thomas Stuart (GBr) JLT Condor, at 15 secs
6. Damien Howson (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott, at 16 secs
7. Koen De Kort (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, at 16 secs
8. Jeroen Meijers (Ned) Roompot – Nederlandse Loterij, at 18 secs
9. Ruben Guerreiro (Por) Trek-Segafredo, at 22 secs
10. Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo, at 33 secs