Sprint sensation Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) kicked off his season in style with victory in the People’s Choice Classic, the official curtain-raiser to the Tour Down Under which rolls out of Adelaide on Tuesday January 21.
Kittel, who won four stages at last year’s Tour de France, outsprinted compatriot Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) to win the 50km evening criterium race beside the River Torrens.
Rising Australian star Caleb Ewan (UniSA-Australia) claimed a surprise third place, but there was concern for Movistar’s Giovanni Visconti after the Italian rider suffered a broken leg during a crash early in the race.
The short circuit race saw Lotto-Belisol setting the pace in the bunch from the off, with defending champion Griepel hoping to add to his three previous victories in this event.
Richie Porte (Team Sky) was among the riders to try an early attack, before Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp), Luca Wackermann (Lampre-Merida) and Axel Domont (Ag2r-La Mondiale) broke clear.
The crash, which saw Visconti leave the race in an ambulance, also brought down Team Sky’s Chris Sutton, among others, but the Italian rider was later confirmed to have suffered a compound fracture requiring surgery.
Up the road, Anthony Roux (FDJ.fr) joined the escapees, who together built a lead that peaked at around 40 seconds.
However, with Lotto-Belisol and Giant-Shimano determined to slash the advantage, it was soon set up the first battle of the season between the two Germans.
Team Sky also massed at the front of the bunch, with Sutton – recovered from his earlier crash – set to contest the sprint.
German champion Greipel kicked first, but with Kittel having been delivered into the perfect position by his sprint train he caught his giant compatriot’s wheel and blasted to victory.
Ewan – riding without a sprint train – bagged an impressive third, while Sutton was forced to settle for fourth.
But the plaudits belonged to Kittel who ensured his team’s new sponsors saw an immediate return on their investment.
The riders will now gear up for the first UCI WorldTour race of the season, the Santos Tour Down Under, which is set to roll out of Adelaide on Tuesday.
Fears were raised over the weekend that the first stage, which is to be broadcast live on Sky Sports, may have to be cancelled due to bush fire warnings in the Barossa region but organisers insisted this morning the stage should be safe to go ahead.
People’s Choice Classic 2014 – result
1) Marcel Kittel (GER) – Giant-Shimano in 1:04:34hrs
2) Andre Greipel (GER) – Lotto-Belisol same time
3) Caleb Ewan (AUS) – UniSA-Australia
4) Christ Sutton (AUS) – Team Sky
5) Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) – Movistar
6) Julian Alaphilippe (FRA) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep
7) Mark Renshaw (AUS) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep
8) Jonathan Cantwell (AUS) – Drapac
9) Elia Viviani (ITA) – Cannondale
10) Jurgen Roelandts (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol