Sam Bennett wins Stage 1 of Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Sam Bennett timed his sprint perfectly Tuesday to win the 150-kilometer (93-mile) opening stage of the Tour Down Under cycle race, the first event of the UCI World Tour.

The Irish rider took advantage of exceptional lead-out work by his Deceuninck Quick-Step teammates to cross the line half a bike length ahead of Belgium’s Jasper Philipsen. Erik Baska of Slovakia was third and Elia Viviani of Italy fourth.

Germany’s Andre Greipel, who has won more stages on the tour than any other rider, was in fifth place and Australian sprint star Caleb Ewan was seventh.

The stage featured five laps of a 30-kilometer circuit through the picturesque wine-growing region of the Barossa Valley, starting and finishing in Tanunda and passing through the townships of Angaston, Bethany and Nuriootpa.

There was a 2.3-kilometer (1.4 mile) straight dash to the finish which Bennett, a five-time stage-winner on Grand Tours, thought wouldn’t suit his racing style.

But he was brought into the finish just at the right time, edging along the barriers on the left side of the road and breaking clear to hold out Philipsen and to post his first win for his new, Belgium-based team.

“I think it was definitely the job of the team which was the reason why I won today,” Bennett said. “I’d be lying if I didn’t feel the pressure coming (to a new team) to get that first win.

“The guys did an absolutely fantastic job, kept me in great position and they did the lead-out perfectly. Every one of them played a superb role today and I can’t thank them enough.”

Four riders took part in an early breakaway and stayed away from the peloton for much of the stage, accumulating sprint and king of the mountain points, the latter as the race passed five times over Breakneck Hill.

The peloton swallowed the break on the last lap and set up a pure sprint finish which featured the best sprinters in the field.

The second stage Wednesday is 135.8-kilometers (84 miles).

Australia’s Jay Vine wins Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Australia’s Jay Vine defended his overnight lead to win the Tour Down Under, the first event of the 2023 World Tour.

Simon Yates of Britain won the final stage and moved up from third to second place on overall standings. Vine came in second on the stage to secure the biggest win of his career in a stage race.

The UAE Team Emirates rider took the overall tour lead when he finished second in Stage 2 and third in Stage 3. He came into the final stage with a 15-second lead on general classification.

The 70-mile stage involved four laps of a 15.5 mile-circuit through the Adelaide Hills before finishing just beyond the summit of Mount Lofty.

Yates led the crucial attack on the ascent less than 1.2 miles from the finish, but Vine jumped onto his wheel and Australian Ben O’Connor also joined in.

O’Connor led out close to the finish line, Vine briefly passed him but Yates came over the top to claim the stage win. Vine retained his overall advantage and claimed the title in his debut appearance in the Tour Down Under.

The 27-year-old made his name in e-Sports before being signed by the UAE team after winning the academy program on the Zwift online platform. He won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana last year and the Australian Time Trial title.

“It’s pretty incredible to be standing here and wearing this jersey,” Vine said. “The way we drove that was first class. My guys were incredible.”

The final stage featured a breakaway of 13 riders but Vine’s UAE teammates led the chase by the peloton and put their rider in a position to contest the win.

Yates again rode an aggressive race but had to be happy with the stage win.

“We came Down Under with a lot of ambition. We put a lot into it and we didn’t come away with the overall but we can walk away pretty happy,” Yates said. “Obviously Jay Vine is a massive talent and the crowd will be happy with a local winner.”

France’s Coquard wins Tour Down Under Stage 4; Vine leads

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ADELAIDE, Australia — French cyclist Bryan Coquard won Stage 4 of the Tour Down Under for his first-ever World Tour win, while Australia’s Jay Vine retained the overall tour lead by 15 seconds with one stage remaining.

Coquard is a lightweight sprinter who has had 49 wins in a decade-long career but had never won on the World Tour until he cleared out near the finish to claim the 82-mile stage by a margin of about just over 100 feet.

Vine was among the leading group that shared Coquard’s winning time and who retained his lead on general classification over Britain’s Simon Yates and Germany’s Phil Bauhaus. The race concludes with Stage 5, which ends atop 2,329-foot Mount Lofty.

“It’s a long time that I’ve waited for this win, 10 years,” said Coquard, who rides for the French Cofidis team. “I never really expected and I’m very happy and relieved with this win.”

While the stage was flat and suited sprinters, it had its challenges. Cross-winds and occasional gradients made the stage difficult and confounded some riders.

After an early breakaway by Jonas Rutsch and former tour winner Daryl Impey of South Africa, the peloton broke into two groups with Vine and other tour leaders among the leading group.

The leading group stayed together around the last, sharp bend towards the finish and Coquard bided his time until his late sprint left other riders flat-footed.

“It was pretty stressful,” Vine said. “There was one point there, I thought we were going to have an easy day and I was happy, smiling, waving to families on the side of the road.

“Then, 45 kilometers in it was on and it was on until the end so it was a very hard day. There was a lot more calorie expenditure than I was planning.”