The new UCI WorldTour season began in familiar fashion as Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) claimed his 17th Tour Down Under stage win to bag the first ochre jersey of the 2018 race in Lyndoch.
Greipel, starting his eighth season with Belgian team Lotto-Soudal, outsprinted Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) and world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) to claim victory on what proved to be a typical sprint stage.
And if the finale to the season’s first day of racing had a familiar feel to it, so did the earlier proceedings as Will Clarke (EF-Drapac) spent another Tour Down Under stage clocking some serious breakaway miles.
Clarke originally broke clear of the peloton with Scott Bowden (UniSA-Australia) and Nickolas Dlamini (Dimension Data) before ploughing on solo when the others sat up.
Six bonus seconds were the reward for his effort, as he won both intermediate sprints, but Clarke’s day up the road was ended with eight kilometres still to race.
From there on – and, in truth, for much of the stage beforehand – a bunch gallop was inevitable, and the only question was which of the fast men had the best early-season form.
"A bunch gallop was inevitable and the only question was which of the fast men had the best early-season form"
Mitchelton-Scott, QuickStep Floors and Bora-hansgrohe were all in the mix as the peloton charged around the final lap of the Lyndoch circuit.
But Lotto-Soudal led Greipel to the front with perfect timing. Jens Debusschere dropped The Gorilla onto Caleb Ewan’s wheel as they approached the final corner and the big German did the rest.
Bursting off of the Australian’s wheel, Greipel charged up the middle of the road to record the first non-Australian stage win at the Tour Down Under since 2015.
Indeed, Greipel is the first non-Aussie to win the opening stage of the race since he himself achieved the feat in 2013.
Ewan, meanwhile, had to settle for second, with Sagan pipping Elia Viviani, who sprinted on the opposite side of the road, to third place and the final bonus seconds.
It means Greipel leads overall by four bonus seconds, ahead of Ewan and Clarke, though Sagan will have the chance to claim the ochre jersey when he rolls out as favourite for the uphill finish to stage two in Stirling.
Of the Brits in action, Chris Lawless was best-placed on his Team Sky debut, finishing 14th, while all of the key GC contenders were safely tucked into the bunch.
Tour Down Under 2018: stage one – result
1) Andre Greipel (GER) – Lotto-Soudal – 3.50.21hrs
2) Caleb Ewan (AUS) – Mitchelton-Scott – ST
3) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Bora-hansgrohe
4) Elia Viviani (ITA) – QuickStep Floors
5) Simone Consonni (ITA) – UAE Team Emirates
6) Phil Bauhaus (GER) – Team Sunweb
7) Nathan Haas (AUS) – Katusha-Alpecin
8) Matteo Montaguti (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
9) Ramunas Navardauskas (LTU) – Bahrain-Merida
10) Riccardo Minali (ITA) – Astana
1) Andre Greipel (GER) – Lotto-Soudal – 3.50.11hrs
2) Caleb Ewan (AUS) – Mitchelton-Scott +4"
3) Will Clarke (AUS) – EF-Drapac – ST
4) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Bora-hansgrohe +6"
5) Nickolas Dlamini (RSA) – Dimension Data – ST
6) Nathan Haas (AUS) – Katusha-Alpecin +9"
7) Jhonatan Restrepo (COL) – Katusha-Alpecin – ST
8) Elia Viviani (ITA) – QuickStep Floors +10"
9) Simone Consonni (ITA) – UAE Team Emirates – ST
10) Phil Bauhaus (GER) – Team Sunweb