Australian Will Clarke was given a hero’s reception by thousands of raucous fans after bringing a 140km breakaway all the way to the finish of the Tour Down Under’s second stage yesterday.
Swiss rider Martin Kohler, of the BMC team, took possession of the race leader’s ochre jersey from German Andre Greipel as the chasing peloton were outdone by the determined UniSA rider.
“This is the biggest win of my career — it’s my first win on the WorldTour,” Clarke said.
Yet, at the start of the day, Clarke had somewhat more modest ambitions.
He and Kohler had been part of a four-man break, which attacked just after the start of the 148km ride over undulating terrain from Lobethal to Stirling.
After the Swiss had pocketed most of the day’s points and bonus seconds at the intermediate sprints — which could prove crucial later in the race — he returned to the bunch with more than two laps of a 26km finishing circuit remaining.
Clarke started the penultimate lap with a massive lead of 11 minutes on the chasing peloton, which by now had put some big engines from Team Sky, GreenEdge, Rabobank and Movistar up front in a bid to close the gap.
Despite seeing his lead brought down to 7 minutes, 30 seconds at the start of his final lap, Clarke held on to solo over the line in 3 hours, 58 minutes, 35 seconds.
Olympic team pursuit champion Geraint Thomas admitted that the favorites had underestimated Clarke and had spent too much time marking each other.
“We just underestimated how strong he was,” Thomas, of Team Sky, said.
“There was a bit of bluffing, seeing which teams were going to ride ... we started going and a few teams came up [to help], but unfortunately we didn’t get him back on the line. But fair play to him, great ride,” he added.
Australian Michael Matthews of Rabobank won the group sprint for second place a minute later, with Simon Gerrans of GreenEdge third, Alejandro Valverde of Movistar fourth and Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen fifth.
“This is unbelievable, really,” said Clarke, who failed to find a spot with a WorldTour team last year when his former team Leopard Trek folded.
“I was up the road with a BMC rider [Kohler] to get some sprint points and I kept going when he went back to the peloton,” Clarke said.
“He probably thought it wasn’t worth keeping going. The peloton gave me more time and I thought: ‘You guys are going to have to chase me hard to catch me.’ But I was dying in the last 10km,” he added.
Swiss time trial champion Kohler, who spent 130km in a breakaway on Tuesday, takes the overall lead by 2 seconds from two-time race winner Greipel, thanks in large part to the bonus seconds he took at the intermediate sprints.
However, heading into today’s third stage, an undulating 134.5km ride from Unley to Victor Harbour, the race is still wide open with most of the main favorites within 12 seconds of the leader.