Rowe formed part of a 10-man escape and blew up the group in the final climb.
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“We said at the end of last year that it was about time I won something,” the 26-year-old Welshman said.
“It’s kind of surreal putting your hands in the air again and going through the winning motions when you spend most of your time working for others. When you get half an opportunity you’ve got to take it and that’s exactly what I did today.”
Rowe last raised his arms in victory 10,400 miles away in Norfolk, host of the 2012 Tour of Britain’s first stage four years and five months ago.
Since, he has been developing as a Grand Tour helper and sharpening his teeth in the biggest one-day classics.
In 2016, Rowe made the front group in the Tour of Flanders and placed fifth in Oudenaarde. With Geraint Thomas heading towards stage races in 2017, he and Ian Stannard will have greater responsibilities.
Back in 2012, he topped Boy van Poppel, brother of current Sky team-mate Danny van Poppel, and Russel Downing to win in Norfolk.
He was eager to win again and left “frustrated” by a recent fifth place in WorldTour race, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race last Sunday.
Watch: Luke Rowe – show us your scars
Today’s stage win in Beechworth, 176 miles from Melbourne, came after a small climb. Rowe began attacking on it and thinned the group.
“There was a moment where I was sat on the UHC guy [Tanner Putt] and there were a few guys behind and I kind of just used him and the gap stayed at a couple of hundred metres … I used him for about a kilometre,” added Rowe.
“I knew the last bit was quite steep and so I hit it with a kilometre, a kilometre and a half to go and it was home and dry from there.”
Sky’s star Chris Froome let Rowe off the leash for the day. He sat in the pack and watched race leader Damien Howson (Orica-Scott). Howson punctured on that final climb and appeared to lose it all for one moment while Froome and others rode clear. Team Orica-Scott pulled him back and saved the leader’s jersey.
“For us behind in the bunch we obviously wanted to shake things up on the general classification,” said Froome.
“We hit the climb hard. Halfway up we heard that Howson had punctured but by then the race was in full swing and there was no stopping.”
The stage tomorrow should see a sprint finish. The stage on Sunday will be the only one left for Sky to dislodge Howson.
“Back to duties,” Rowe said of tomorrow. “It doesn’t last for a long this fame and glamour.
“Back to the grind tomorrow and I’ll box on with Danny [van Poppel] and we’ll try and drop him off in the perfect place.”