His hopes of claiming the Tour Down Under could have been in tatters when he was forced from the road and almost into a parked car that had him seeing his “life flash before (his) eyes” in the final kilometres in Tanunda.
But Australian Michael Matthews is instead right in the hunt for the overall honours after clawing back eight seconds in time bonuses on stage 1.
The Jayco-AlUla gun is considered to be one of the favourites for the ochre jersey at the TDU but the wet weather that hit the race’s opening prologue on Tuesday evening meant Matthews started Wednesday’s 149.9km first stage in the Barossa Valley 14 seconds behind Italian Alberto Bettiol of EF Education – Easypost.
However after the first stage of the race to and from Tanunda the 32-year-old known as “Bling” is now just six seconds off Bettiol as he reeled in the Italian by claiming time bonuses after he finished second on the two intermittent sprints and third on the stage to claw back eight seconds.
“I think it is pretty obvious what our goal was today, to get as many time bonuses as we could whether through the stage or on the final sprint,” Matthews said.
“Last night we gave away a bit of time… I think we made up for that today.”
Matthews had already made up four seconds going into the final kilometres of the race, but nearly encountered disaster in the dying stages as the riders approached the Tanunda finish.
Not only did he drop his chain but he was forced from the road as riders jostled for position and onto the dirt, narrowly dodging a parked ute on the side of the road.
“That wasn’t very fun, I sort of just got pushed from my left to the right side of the road and unfortunately had to jump onto the dirt and find my way back on,” he said.
“It was a scary moment, I also dropped my chain so I lost a couple of places so I had to move back up again and get back onto my team and do my sprint.
“Yeah you sort of see your life flash before your eyes (seeing a parked car approaching) but you can’t really think too much about it, you know what your job is to be there at the final.
“I just knew I needed to get back onto the road, get my chain back on and get to the front.”
German Phil Bauhaus of Bahrain Victorious won the stage in a sprint ahead of Australia’s Caleb Ewan and Matthews.
For the second straight day there were multiple crashes.
Pre-race contender Patrick Bevan of Team DSM was caught up in an early one and still feeling the impacts of one he suffered on Saturday abandoned the race.
There were multiple crashes on the stage including in the final sprint that prevented Bettiol from being able to take part in the final sprint.
The Italian suggested that a lack of experience in the peloton contributed to the multiple crashes on what should have been an easy day.
“The average age of the peloton is getting smaller and smaller and in general in January we crash more in other months because everyone is excited, maybe they have changed team and want to show how good they are, especially the sprinters,” he said.
“It is normal, maybe we lost some respect in the peloton but it is pretty normal.”
Matthews and Jayco-AlUla will be looking to get more time bonuses on Thursday’s stage 2, a 154.8km course from Brighton to Victor Harbor.
Thursday’s stage is another one that is largely flat before riders encounter the hardest of this year’s Tour on stage 3, with testing climbs on Norton Summit, Checker Hill and the notorious Corkscrew.
Matthews said he was unsure just how much time he would need to gain on Thursday ahead of the tough stage 3.
“We will just take it day-by-day, if there are time bonuses available on the road we will try and take them,” he said.
“I’m also confident on the Corkscrew that I can get over.
“If the other teams are going to let us take those time bonuses’ then we are going to take them and we will see when it comes to Corkscrew what we have left.”
Main contender abandons Tour
One of the riders considered to be a main contender for overall honours at the Tour Down Under has abandoned the race.
Team DSM’s Patrick Bevin was touted as a one of the challenges for the ochre jersey as the TDU returned after a two-year hiatus.
But he abandoned the race early on in the first stage in the Barossa Valley following a crash on the 149.9km stage.
The New Zealander also crashed in the TDU’s curtain raiser, the Schwalbe Classic, on Saturday and had been dealing with the impacts from that.
Bevin abandoning the race on the first stage continues a horror run of luck for the 31-year-old in the TDU.
He held the race lead for four days in 2019 but crashed heavily on stage 5.
Bevin continued to race but was helpless as South African Daryl Impey claimed the race victory on Willunga Hill.
HINDLEY SAYS IT’S ‘FULL STEAM AHEAD’ FOR FRANCE
Australia’s reigning Giro D’Italia winner Jai Hindley has confirmed that he is aiming for a crack at the Tour de France this year saying the route for the 2023 race “doesn’t get much better than that for a rider like me”.
Hindley became the first Australian to win the Giro and just the second behind the legendary Cadel Evans to win a Grand Tour when he triumphed in Italy last year.
Almost immediately since the 26-year-old won the Giro the question has been is a crack at the yellow jersey in France next for the Western Australian.
While he has previously remained coy when asked if he will have a crack at the world’s biggest bike race, Hindley confirmed that he wants to target the Tour on his professional team’s Band of Brothers|BORA-hansgrohe cycling podcast ahead of his 2023 season beginning at the Tour Down Under on Tuesday.
“Full steam for the Tour (de France) would be the ideal plan,” he said when asked what his schedule looks like for 2023.
“So we’ll see how it’s all going for that.
“But yeah, it would be a dream come true to do the Tour.”
BORA won’t make a call on whether Hindley contests the Tour until later this year, but the Australian is already dreaming of an first appearance in France.
“I think the Tour is just the pinnacle of our sport,” he said.
“Everyone goes there with the best team. It is big pressure, all the sponsors are watching that race, everyone watches the Tour.
“It is just massive and I would love to be a part of it.
“I think the Giro is a beautiful race and it is really hard but I’ve started it four-times now and I’ve never done the Tour.
So I think it is pretty natural to want to do the Tour.”
The route for the 2023 Tour is considered to be one more for climbers like Hindley, with four mountaintop finishes scheduled and just one individual time trial.
“If we are looking at the Tour I don’t think the route gets much better than that for a rider like me,” he said.
Hindley’s teammate at BORA Marco Haller said on Tuesday that sending Hindley to chase the yellow jersey in France “would make a lot of sense”.
“In theory looking at the parcours (routes) on the Giro and the Tour the Tour should maybe favour him a bit more,” Haller said.
“But there is still a long way to go, you need to see how you go through spring.
“In my opinion it would make a lot of sense to send Jai to the Tour.”
Haller said that winning the Giro would give Hindley a lot of confidence racing the Tour.
“You also need to have a 100 per cent focus on the Tour but maybe he can go into the Tour a bit more relaxed because he has the Giro victory already,” he said.
“I think a Grand Tour approach is similar to any of them, it doesn’t matter if it is the Giro, the Vuelta (a Espana) or the Tour.”
Hindley is one of Grand Tour winners competing at the Tour Down Under, in its return after a two-year hiatus.
The TDU runs from Tuesday to Sunday.
RAIN OPENS DOOR FOR BETTIOL TO HOLD OCHRE JERSEY
The rain came at the worst possible moment for Stuart O’Grady.
For years his predecessor as race director of the Tour Down Under Mike Turtur resisted putting a prologue to open the race because of a fear that too big of a time gap would be opened up for the rest of action.
So O’Grady instead came up with a 5.5km course around the Adelaide Riverbank that in theory shouldn’t open up too much of a time gap in the peloton ahead of Wednesday’s first stage.
But then the rain came.
After Italian Alberto Bettiol of EF Education – Easypost, the fourth man down the ramp, roared around the course the rain began to fall.
So did the riders with six coming off their bike at the technical corner near Jolleys Boathouse just before the final sprint to the finish line.
And as the rain fell heavier, the times got slower and Bettiol sat in the hot seat under an umbrella on the Adelaide Riverbank thanking the weather gods.
“Australia helped me, the weather of Australia helped me,” he said after it was confirmed he would wear the ochre jersey on stage one.
Not even the riders who like Bettiol rode on dry roads were able to get close to his blistering time.
But importantly pre-race favourites such as Jayco-AlUla’s big Australian hope Michael Matthews are now 14 seconds behind Bettiol and INEOS Grenadiers’ Ethan Hayter 19 seconds behind the Italian.
Newly crowned Australian time trial champion Jay Vine of UAE Team Emirates, who along with Matthews was 14 seconds off the lead, said it could be crucial seconds.
“It has completely ruined the speed of some of the guys,” he said of the wet course.
“It could have written off a lot of GC hopefuls on day one.
“It is unfortunate for the race but we can’t control the weather … it was a lottery.”
Adelaide’s two-time world time trial champion Rohan Dennis himself was 17 seconds off Bettiol but thought he rode as well as he could in the conditions.
“Yeah I think so, there were maybe a couple of little risks that I’ve taken but it wasn’t worth it,” he said.
Despite the big time gaps to guys such as Matthews and Hayter, Dennis Bettiol was playing down his chances of holding the ochre jersey to Mount Lofty on Sunday.
“I’m still convinced that these guys are the favourites, I’m not a favourite for the race but it is still a pro win,” he said.
American young gun Magnus Sheffield finishing just eight seconds behind him could give the strong INEOS squad something to think about if they want to change their plan from being Hayter for the win.
And there are still time bonuses that sprinters such as Matthews can get across the next couple of days.
If the rain stayed away the prologue would have been a huge success with crowds flocking to the Adelaide Riverbank to welcome back the TDU after a two-year hiatus.
But in a race that has been decided by just seconds on many occasions Bettiol now has a lot up his sleeve.
BETTIOL HOLDS OCHRE JERSEY HEADED WEDNESDAY’S LEG OF TOUR DOWN UNDER
The cycling gods spared Italian Alberto Bettiol from a rain-soaked Santos Tour Down Under prologue at the picturesque Adelaide Riverbank on Tuesday night.
The EF Education-Easypost, Giro D’Italia stage winner avoided the summer rain which turned the time trial into a slippery dip on wheels.
Bettiol will wear the ochre jersey for the Ziptrak stage 1 Tanunda to Tanunda on Wednesday.
“The strategy was a little bit different,’’ Bettiol said.
“I asked the (team) sports director to start first because I think I had enough experience to show my teammates Mikkel Honore and Sean Quinn the better way to cornering and how to time trial.
“In the end, I won and there weren’t a lot of strategies, you must learn to navigate corners and sometimes you need to be lucky.
“For the moment I’ll enjoy this jersey, I like this race and I’ll be really proud to wear it for the Santos Tour Down Under, it’s a prologue and the real race starts (Wednesday).”
Bettiol has an eight-second lead over second-placed Magnus Sheffield from Ineos Grenadiers.
Sheffield will wear the young rider’s jersey on Wednesday.
The Italian earned the leader’s jersey after completing the 5.5km course in 6min 19sec before the heavens opened.
Australia’s Ben O’Connor from French team AG2r Citroen ended his wet time trial in 6min 42sec revealing he is primed to be at his best for the Santos Tour Down Under.
The 27-year-old returns to the race for the fourth time.
O’Connor has been a revelation over the past three years in Europe after finishing fourth overall at the Tour de France in 2021.
“The dream would always be to finish on the podium of Grand Tours, the Tour de France, Giro D’Italia and the Vuelta you have to be the best in the world,’’ O’Connor said.
“It’s not luck and hopefully age can help me improve as well.”
O’Connor is flanked by a team of five Frenchmen including Tour de France and Giro D’Italia stage winner Nans Peters and a Swiss by his side at the Tour Down Under.
The GC and climbing specialist said he could be a chance to claim honours but revealed the short Santos Tour Down Under stages would be challenging.
“If the climbs were longer like from Adelaide city to Mount Lofty that would be perfect,’’ O’Connor said.
“But we’re doing the circuits up there (in the Adelaide Hills), it’s always hilly but not really hard.
“I’ll have to try and make it hard (for rivals) and if it doesn’t work it, doesn’t work.”
O’Connor favours Australian team Jayco AlUla to be at its peak for its home race where its team of six Australian riders include Australian stars Michael Matthews and Chris Harper and English Vuelta a Espana champion Simon Yates.
General Classification top 3
1. Alberto Bettiol – EF Education-Easypost – 6min:19sec
2. Magnus Sheffield – Ineos Grenadiers – 0:08
3. Julius Johansen – Intermarche-Circus-Wanty 0.10
BROWN REELS IN SPRATT TO WIN WOMEN’S TOUR DOWN UNDER
Australia’s Grace Brown surged home to overhaul compatriot Amanda Spratt at the finish of the third stage and win the women’s Tour Down Under on Tuesday in scorching conditions.
Brown, the world time trial silver medallist, reeled in three-time TDU winner Spratt on the seven-kilometre (4.3-mile) descent off the punishing Corkscrew climb to claim the final stage and become the first World Tour winner of the event.
Spratt, who was bidding to add to her 2017-19 TDU wins, held a 20-second gap over Brown after a draining climb up the brutal 24.5 per cent gradient of the Corkscrew.
But she couldn’t hold off the sprinter Brown in the downhill dash to the finish line outside Adelaide.
“I am really pleased. The team did an awesome job today,” Brown said. “They led me out into the final climb and I knew Amanda was going to be really good on the Corkscrew.
“But I just kept her within distance, knowing that I could potentially catch her on the descent, and was able to do it.” Brown, leading the French FDJ-Suez team, won the general classification by 10 seconds from Spratt (Trek-Segafredo) with New Zealand’s Georgia Williams (EF Education-Tibco-SVB) on 19 seconds.
Spratt, fighting back from a condition which narrows the artery and restricts blood flow to the legs, was rated the one to beat in the gruelling final stage because of her hill-climbing reputation.
And Spratt, who trailed Brown by six seconds going into the final day, looked on course to win the stage and take the ochre leader’s jersey with her commanding lead at the top of the Corkscrew.
But she succumbed to Brown’s superior sprinting qualities.
“We sure are making women’s cycling exciting, aren’t we?” Spratt said. “I don’t have many regrets. My team rode amazingly well, we had a plan, they positioned me perfectly for the Corkscrew and I attacked it the way I wanted.
“It’s never nice when you know that Grace Brown is chasing you on a downhill like that, I was hoping I would get there, but she was too strong at the finish.” Overnight race leader Alexandra Manly (Team Jayco-AlUla) dropped well back on the unforgiving climb and finished 40 seconds behind to lose her chance of making the final race.
STAGE 3 RESULTS
1. Grace Brown (AUS/FDJ-Suez) 2hr 37min 11sec
2. Amanda Spratt (AUS/Trek-Segafredo) at 0sec
3. Georgia Williams (NZL/EF Education-Tibco-SVB) 13sec
4. Danielle De Francesco (AUS/Zaaf Cycling Team)
5. Ruby Roseman-Gannon (AUS/Team Jayco-AlUla)
FINAL OVERALL STANDINGS
1.Grace Brown (AUS/FDJ-Suez) 8hr 3min 29sec
2. Amanda Spratt (AUS/Trek-Segafredo) at 10sec
3. Georgia Williams (NZL/EF Education-Tibco-SVB) 19sec
4. Ruby Roseman-Gannon (AUS/Team Jayco-AlUla) 28sec
5. Krista Doebel-Hickok (USA/EF Education-Tibco-SVB) 29sec
MANLY TAKES DOWN THREE-TIME CHAMP IN ‘BRUTAL’ FINISH
Australia’s Alexandra Manly (Team Jayco-AlUla) overhauled solo breakaway Amanda Spratt to take the hilly stage two and claim the ochre leader’s jersey in the women’s Tour Down Under on Monday.
Three-time TDU winner Spratt (Trek-Segafredo) attempted to steal the stage with a lung-busting attack up Mount Lofty 10 kilometres from the finish of the 90km Birdwood to Uraidla leg in the opening World Tour event of the season in scorching temperatures.
But Manly reeled in Spratt in a sprint finish ahead of New Zealand’s Georgia Williams (EF Education-Tibco-SVB) and Dutch rider Nina Buijsman (Human Powered Health).
Manly will take an eight-second lead over Williams for her home-based team into Tuesday’s third and final Adelaide to Campbelltown stage over 93.2kms, featuring the demanding slopes of the ‘Corkscrew’.
“I was perfectly looked after by my team all day, and I am just so thankful to do this in my own backyard,” Manly said.
“I know that part of the road is always painful even when you go on a training ride so I was just making sure I had the momentum and, of course, Spratty was going to take the opportunity to attack.
“I don’t have the same legs as Spratty on the climb so me being there forced the others to chase a bit and eventually I used the descent to try and bridge back some time.”
Manly, 26, took four stage wins last year and the overall title at the Internationale LOTTO Thuringen Ladies Tour along with her first World Tour victory at the Tour of Scandinavia.
Spratt, one of the leading contenders for this year’s TDU, powered up Mt Lofty trying to pinch a winning break but was just unable to hold on to finish 10th in the stage and lie 14 seconds behind Manly heading into the final stage.
“It’s brutal, but that’s sport. I got a really good gap and felt great on the climb,” noted hill-climber Spratt said.
“It was fun being able to attack like that again, I haven’t been able to do that in a few years, so I will take a lot of confidence out of that.
“I’ve got one more day to chase that leader’s jersey now.”
Compatriot Grace Brown, leading the French FDJ-Suez team, is another well in contention after her fifth-place finish to be third overall, eight seconds down.
STAGE 2 RESULTS
1. Alexandra Manly (AUS/Team Jayco-AlUla) 2hr 23min 33sec
2. Georgia Williams (NZL/EF Education-Tibco-SVB) at 0sec
3. Nina Buijsman (NED/Human Powered Health)
4. Danielle De Francesco (AUS/Zaaf Cycling Team)
5. Grace Brown (AUS/FDJ-Suez)
1. Alexandra Manly (AUS/Team Jayco-AlUla) 5hr 26min 20sec
2. Georgia Williams (NZL/EF Education-Tibco-SVB) at 8sec
3. Grace Brown (AUS/FDJ-SUEZ)
4. Ruby Roseman-Gannon (AUS/Team Jayco-AlUla) 13sec
5. Amanda Spratt (AUS/Trek-Segafredo) 14sec
WOMEN’S STAGE 1: Pikulik powers through first win
Poland’s Daria Pikulik rode powerfully in a bunch sprint finish to claim the first stage of Australia’s Women’s Tour Down Under outside Adelaide on Sunday.
Pikulik (Human Powered Health) surged through an opening for her first World Tour stage win from France’s Clara Copponi (FDJ-Suez) and Australia’s Georgia Baker (Team Jayco-AlUla) at the end of the 110.4-kilometre Glenelg to Aldinga stage.
“I didn’t expect to win today, this is my first World Tour race and my first race with my new team,” Pikulik said.
“I can’t believe I win today. I’m just a Polish girl making the dream come true.” With time bonuses Pikulik will take the leader’s jersey into Monday’s more hilly 90-km second stage from Birdwood to Uraidla.
“Daria Pikulik is our triple podium star,” her team tweeted. “Stage victory, Leader’s jersey, Sprints jersey. Not a bad return for your first road race in #HumanPoweredHealth colours.”
The three-stage Women’s TDU now forms part of the UCI World Tour, with points on offer.
Pikulik, predominantly a track rider, used her powerful sprint finish to take the stage after the peloton reeled in a two-strong breakaway comprising Australians Isabelle Carnes (Ara Skip Capital) and Gina Ricardo (Team Bridgelane) with 10km to the finish line.
Leading Australian contender Amanda Spratt, who has won the TDU for three consecutive years (2017-2019) finished fifth in the opening stage for her Trek-Segafredo team.
Spratt lies eighth overall, 10 seconds down going into the second stage. Another prominent local contender, Grace Brown, leading the French FDJ-Suez team, is fourth overall after the first stage, seven seconds down on the leader.
After Baker’s third-place finish, her Team Jayco AlUla tweeted: “A big effort on a hard and windy day, the squad back Baker for the finish and she rounds out the podium with 3rd on what was a fast and frantic dash to the line.”
Aussie sprint star claims stunning victory in Schwalbe Classic
– Val Migliaccio
Australian sprint superstar Caleb Ewan claimed the Schwalbe Classic in a front of a raucous city crowd on Saturday night.
The 28-year-old was roared over the Flinders Street finish line an hour, two minutes and 37 seconds after the start gun was fired before the official Santos Tour Down Under WorldTour race season starts.
Ewan, a nine-time Tour Down under stage winner, used his incredible power to rise to the top of the peloton ahead of some of the finest bike riders the Tour Down Under has seen since its inception in 1999.
With Ewan lapping up the win, Australia’s Grand Tour winner Jai Hindley stayed out of trouble in a race tailor-made for sprint guns.
Hindley’s incredible Giro D’Italia 2022 win has seen the Australian superstar remain ice cool ahead of the new 2023 UCI WorldTour season.
The West Australian is just the second Australian to win a Grand Tour in more than 100 years of the toughest stage racing on the planet after Cadel Evans claimed the Tour de France title in 2011.
“Last time I was at the TDU (Tour Down Under) I wasn’t at the press conference,’’ Hindley said with tongue in cheek.
“I’ll put it to you like that, same old, and the Aussie crowd and all the fans, I don’t buy into it, I have my own ambitions.”
Hindley last raced at the Tour Down Under WorldTour in 2020 under the wing of Team Sunweb and the watch of South Australia’s Luke Roberts.
Hindley during the height of Covid in 2020 just missed out on GC at the Giro D’Italia.
He finished 18th overall at the Tour Down Under in 2020 and 2019 after making his debut at the event for UniSA where he finished 25th in 2017.
Bora-hansgrohe’s Hindley is the absolute Australian men’s standout for the WorldTour race which starts with a prologue for the first time in race history on Tuesday night.
The winner of the time trial at the Adelaide Riverbank will also win and wear the ochre leader’s jersey for the Ziptrak Stage 1 Tanunda to Tanunda on Wednesday.
Race director Stuart O’Grady’s WorldTour debut will come to fruition after the two-time Tour Down Under champion has attracted arguably the most exciting peloton in the history of the race.
Hindley, 26, leads the Australian pack, followed by super Grand Tour champions Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, and slick Australian gun Michael Matthews.
O’Grady was stoked by the presence of some of the biggest names in world cycling in Adelaide in 2023.
“I’d like to think the guys are happy to be here,’’ O’Grady said.
“I know personally how important it is to be in Adelaide for the racing to get that build up that makes it easier for you for the rest of the season.
“I found that out for myself (as a professional rider).
“And I’m privileged and proud to be sitting up with them and very, very grateful, that they have made a commitment to be here.”
KIWI CLAIMS HISTORIC VICTORY IN WOMEN’S SCHWALBE CLASSIC
Ally Wollastan from Team New Zealand claimed the women’s Schwalbe Classic on the eve of the historic maiden women’s Santos Tour Down Under WorldTour on Monday.
Wollastan, 22, raced to victory in a bunch sprint finish on Flinders Street on the city street circuit on Saturday night.
The day’s scorching 38C temperature was met with strong southerly winds in the early evening which favoured attacks as Wollastan – after a second place in New Zealand’s 2022 national road titles – was too strong over the line.
Jayco UlULa’s Georgie Howe led from the front early in the race in a snapshot of what’s in store for fans in the Ziptrak Stage 1 from Glenelg to Aldinga from 11.30am on Monday.
The crit racing seemingly pleased Santos Tour Down Under assistant race director Annette Edmondson.
“We have been very hungry to get back racing, we’re ready to get involved in the WorldTour peloton, a major moment for Australian cycling,” Edmondson said.
She was ecstatic on the eve of the Tour Down Under making its UCI WorldTour debut to open the 2023 season across the globe.
Seven years after Edmondson featured at the UCI’s 2.2 event before women would receive the same prize money as the men’s WorldTour stars in SA in 2018, the race was last year upgraded to the highest-level professional racing on the planet for the first time.
Edmondson and fellow assistant Tour Down Under race director Carlee Taylor are expected to have an extremely busy and enjoyable three days of first-class racing joining race director Stuart O’Grady.
Stage 2 features Birdwood to Uraidla.
The Let’s Go stage 3 leaves from the Torrens Footbridge in the city before culminating with a fast finish on the Montacute Road, Campbelltown finish line.
And current Australian national road champion Brodie Chapman is confident in her teammates’ ability to challenge for major prizes during the three-stage race as she prepares for another blast of scorching 38C on Tuesday.
“With the heat, it’s about monitoring yourself, I’d like to think it’s like racing at altitude,’’ Chapman said.
“We’ve got a team of experts helping us out.”
“I like to pre-cool as much as possible, take a cold shower before I go out riding, try to drink all my liquid calories, wet the body, and get out of the sun as soon as possible.”
And wearing the road champion national colours at the WorldTour for the entire season for the first time in her career is monumental for the climbing specialist.
“It’s definitely as special as you would imagine wearing the national champion jersey,’’ Chapman said.
“The jersey itself is not always a thing that’s guaranteed in your career and to be able to race at the Tour Down Under and the first race here after Covid, it’s very special and it’s not lost on me.”
Originally published as Tour Down Under 2023: Michael Matthews back in the hunt after scary near-miss