Elia Viviani completed a superb tactical race from Deceuninck-Quick Step to win the fifth edition of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in Geelong, Australia.
The Belgian team worked tirelessly to close down attacks in the final lap and gave their Italian sprinter a perfect lead out to help him to his second win of the 2019 season, following on from success on stage one of the Tour Down Under.
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Undulations, including a stinging climb 11km from the finish, has tended to prevent pure sprinters from winning the race, but in the first one-day WorldTour race of the season Viviani finally bucked that trend.
Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) was unable to fully launch his sprint in the closing few hundred metres but finished just a half-a-bike length shy of Viviani. Daryl Impey, the reigning Tour Down Under champion, finished third. The defending champion Jay McCarthy (Bora-Hansgrohe) came home in eighth place.
How it happened
Within the first 10km of the 164km race, a breakaway of three riders formed, consisting of Laurens de Vreese (Astana) and the Korda Mentha Real Estate Australia duo of Carter Turnbull and Nathan Elliott.
The trio led for 110km when De Vreese decided to leave his fellow escapees and become a sole attacker, breaking clear on a short climb in the second of the finishing circuit’s four laps.
As the peloton started the penultimate lap 140 seconds behind, Davide Ballerini (Astana) and Nic Dlamini (Dimension-Data) set off in pursuit of De Vreese and the Australian pair.
At the top of the steep 1.2km Challambra climb, Ballerini had caught his teammate De Vreese, leaving the Kazakh team with a superb chance of winning as the duo rode just under two minutes ahead of the peloton.
Behind Rob Stannard (Mitchelton-Scott) and Kenny Elissonde (Team Sky) were slightly off the front of the large peloton but they were dragged back into the bunch shortly after, along with the original three breakaway riders, leaving Ballerini out front completely alone.
Ballerini led by one minute as he began the final lap, but by the time the Italian was ascending the crucial Challambra climb for the fourth and last time, he was absorbed by a Luke Rowe-led peloton.
The catch meant that Daniel Oss (Bora-Hansgrohe) attacked, and at the summit of the climb he was overtaken by Diego Ulissi (UAE-Team Emirates). However, there was no lead group on the descent and limited splits in the peloton, exciting sprinters such as Ewan and Viviani.
Dylan van Baarle (Team Sky), Dries Devenyns (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and Lucas Hamilton (Mitchelton-Scott) launched a three-man move with six kilometres left to race, although their advantage lasted less than a 1,000m.
Such short lived attacks were largely because of the work put in by Devenyns and Brit climber James Knox, both of whom were determined to ensure a sprint finish would eventuate, which they hoped would favour their teammate Viviani.
Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) and Van Baarle again sprung clear without any success. Aware of Viviani’s presence in the upper echelons of the peloton, Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) tried his fortune, too. That failed, and so prompted two other doomed attacks, this time from Pavel Sivakov (Team Sky) and Oss once more.
The peloton of around 35 riders passed under the flamme rouge and Michael Morkov, Viviani’s designed lead out man, was at the front, producing a rapid speed.
Viviani was ideally positioned and shielded superbly, with Ewan tucked in behind. Impey boxed the Australian in somewhat, so when Viviani ducked to Morkov’s left and opened up his sprint, Ewan had to wait until he too could dart left and start his sprint.
By this point Viviani was in full speed and despite Ewan enjoying a slight bit of slipstream he couldn’t power past the Italian who bettered his second-place finish from 12 months ago.
Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, Geelong > Geelong, 164km
1. Elia Viviani (Ita) Deceuninck-Quick Step, in 3.54:35
2. Caleb Ewan (Aus) Lotto-Soudal
3. Daryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-Scott
4. Ryan Gibbons (RSA) Dimension-Data
5. Jens Debusschere (Bel) Katusha-Alpecin
6. Luke Rowe (GBr) Team Sky
7. Michael Morkov (Den) Deceuninck-Quick Step
8. Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe
9. Owain Doull (GBr) Team Sky
10. Luis Leon Sanchez (Esp) Astana, all at same time