Rohan Dennis (Jumbo-Visma) punched away from a select quintet of favourites to win stage two of the Tour Down Under, and take the race lead with it, in a thrilling finish on Thursday.
Heading into the final kilometre, he was joined by Jay Vine (UAE Emirates), Mauro Schmid (Soudal Quick-Step), Simon Yates (Jayco AlUla) and Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe).
The latter was the first to attack, but was caught and then counter-attacked by Dennis, who finished the stage two seconds ahead of Vine, Yates and Schmid, with Hindley a further three seconds back.
Behind, Caleb Ewan (UniSA-Australia) won the sprint for sixth, a consolation prize for the Lotto-Dstny rider after he finished second on stage one.
Michael Matthews (Jayco Alula) was forced to concede defeat in his fight for the overall after a mechanical and at the finish lamented a perceived lack of respect in the peloton.
The in-form Australian was again active throughout the hilly 154.8km stage, contesting the intermediate primes to come within four seconds of overnight leader Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) on the road.
Matthews had put all his rivals on notice, with Vine at the stage start mentioning his compatriot as an obstacle to his own title ambitions, which got a boost.
It was Vine who first attacked when the versatile sprinter dropped his chain some 22.2km from the finish, on the slopes of the Nettle Hill climb where the race exploded.
Matthews’ teammate Yates bridged to Vine, with Dennis, Schmid and Hindley also joining to form an elite selection.
Yates only began to work inside the final 4km, signalling a change in Jayco Alula team leadership.
Matthews finished the stage two minutes and 13 seconds behind Dennis and was visibly disappointed past the finish line where he remonstrated with Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers), who leads the best young rider classification.
“The team rode really good all day, got two really good intermediate sprints, some time back there on the GC guys, and we came to the final climb, and I don’t know what is happening with cycling these days, there’s no respect in the bunch,” Matthews said.
“I was in a great position, got hit from one side, hit from the other side, dropped my chain, it got stuck in between the frame and the front crank, I couldn’t get it out.
“I was lucky I had a few guys up front to help me out and try and claw back as much time as I could but it was pretty over.”
Sheffield, who recovered from a crash on stage one to start, said he apologised to Matthews after what he described to be a race incident.
“Unfortunately, I think he dropped his chain on that climb,” said Sheffield. “There was a rider that bumped into me, and he happened to be right beside me and I think there was a bit of touching of wheels. I immediately apologised after the finish line.
“It’s really unfortunate, that this is part of cycling and the racing. It wasn’t my intention at all. I really just tried to apologise and be up front with him.”
Dennis, who is from Adelaide, has had a quieter lead-in than usual to his home race. Normally front and centre of pre-race press conferences, he skipped those last week and also didn’t contest the Australian national road championships earlier this month.
“I didn’t do nationals, one, I couldn’t be bothered and, two, I wanted to concentrate purely on this instead,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a different training lead up. This is more, as we saw, punchy, whereas TTing is consistent power and a few spikes here and there.”
Dennis, who is down a teammate after Robert Gesink crashed out of the race on Wednesday, aims to defend the jersey through to Sunday but has an eye on Vine especially ahead of stage three and the Corkscrew.
“I wasn’t expecting to go away on that final climb and stay away,” said Dennis. “I think we did something similar in 2018 and it all came back together but it was also a bigger group, and no one really wanted to work, so I didn’t want to risk Jay and Yates going away. That’s a bit too risky for me, I think, so I had to bust my arse a little bit to get over that climb.”
EF Education-EasyPost sports director Tom Southam said Bettiol suffered from cramps on the climb, where he was pictured exasperated. He finished in the same group as Matthews.
"He cramped and he’s Italian and it looks more spectacular than it probably was," Southam said. “It’s affected him before, at the Olympics."
“I’m really surprised by it today, as is he, I mean, it’s 21 degrees, it’s been fairly cool, and I feel like all the boxes were ticked but obviously something has not been right because he should have stayed in that group with his eyes closed. The hard work was done.
"We came here to do the GC with Mikkel [Honore], who fell off in the prologue. As it happened Alberto won the prologue and we were in the lead with a guy who wasn’t necessarily the guy who was our guy for classification," Southam continued.
"So we were quite relaxed about it. We were going to try and get him as far as we could. Today's answered that question so we go back to the drawing board with what we have."
Dennis leads Vine by three seconds on the general classification, with Sheffield in third 12 seconds off the pace, Schmid 13 seconds in arrears and Corbin Strong (Israel Premier-Tech) and Hugo Page (Intermarche-Circus-Wanty) 14 seconds back.
Tour Down Under stage two results: Brighton to Victor Harbor (154.8km)
1. Rohan Dennis (Aus) Jumbo-Visma, in 4-00-40
2. Jay Vine (Aus) UAE Team Emirates, at 2s
3. Mauro Schmid (Sui) Soudal Quick-Step
4. Simon Yates (GBr) Jayco AlUla, both at same time
5. Jai Hindley (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 5s
6. Caleb Ewan (Aus) UniSA-Australia, at 11s
7. Emīls Liepinš (Lat) Trek-Segafredo
8. Corbin Strong (Aus) Israel-Premier Tech
9. Kaden Groves (Aus) Alpecin-Deceuninck
10. Paul Penhoët (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, all at same time
General classification after stage two
1. Rohan Dennis (Aus) Jumbo-Visma, in 7-44-41
2. Jay Vine (Aus) UAE Team Emirates, at 3s
3. Magnus Sheffield (USA) Ineos Grenadiers, at 12s
4. Mauro Schmid (Sui) Soudal Quick-Step, at 13s
5. Corbin Strong (Aus) Israel-Premier Tech, at 14s
6. Hugo Page (Fra) Intermarché-Circus-Wanty, at same time
7. Kaden Groves (Aus) Alpecin-Deceuninck, at 15s
8. Marius Mayrhofer (Deu) DSM, at 17s
9. Nikia Arndt (Deu) Bahrain-Victorious, at 19s
10. Miles Scotson (Aus) Groupama-FDJ, at 20s
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Sophie Smith is an Australian journalist, broadcaster and author of Pain & Privilege: Inside Le Tour. She follows the WorldTour circuit, working for British, Australian and US press, and has covered 10 Tours de France.
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