Adelaide (Australia) (AFP) – Italy’s Elia Viviani won a tight finish to take the opening stage of Australia’s Tour Down Under in brutal temperatures in Adelaide on Tuesday.
Deceuninck–Quick-Step’s Viviani, the omnium gold medallist at the 2016 Rio Olympics and one of the world’s leading sprinters, powered out of the pack to reel in Germany’s Max Walscheid and claim the ochre jersey after the first of six stages.
Walscheid of Team Sunweb finished second across the line ahead of another Italian in the CCC Team, Jakub Mareczko.
It was a reversal of fortunes for Viviani, 29, who crashed on the final lap of Sunday’s Down Under Classic criterium leading into the tour.
“When you start the World Tour season with the stage win and the leader’s jersey here in Tour Down Under, it’s the best way,” said Viviani.
“Now we know we’ve done a good job during the winter — that’s the question we’ve already answered.”
Viviani comes into the Tour Down Under on the back of a successful 2018 season.
The Italian won 18 races, including stage 3 at the Tour Down Under, the overall classification at the Dubai Tour, four stages at the Giro d’Italia, the Hamburg Cyclassics race and three stages at the Vuelta a Espana.
The riders braved temperatures hovering above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the opening 129-kilometre (80-mile) stage from North Adelaide to Port Adelaide.
The peloton eased its pace with 20 kilometres to go as it made its way through the northern suburbs of Adelaide.
The pace then quickened as the peloton closed within 10 kilometres of the finish.
But with two final 90-degree turns within the final kilometre, the bunch scrambled for positions as the finish closed in.
Walscheid broke best heading to the line before Viviani swooped to claim the opening stage, winning by two bike lengths.
Slovak triple world champion Peter Sagan was eighth, while Australia’s Down Under Classic winner Caleb Ewan was down the order in 23rd.
Organisers have shortened Wednesday’s Stage 2 amid forecasts of continuing extreme temperatures from Norwood to Angaston through the Adelaide Hills and the wine-growing Barossa Valley.
South Africa’s Daryl Impey, who finished 11th, is bidding to become the first cyclist to win back-to-back titles at the Tour Down Under.