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In the final chaotic dash to the line, Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ) edged out Natnael Tesfazion (Lidl-Trek) to win the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in Geelong. The New Zealander claimed his first WorldTour victory by less than half a wheel. Georg Zimmermann (Intermarché-Wanty) was third in the reduced bunch sprint.
Though he was boxed in the final metres, Pithie was able to jump from Corbin Strong’s wheel, and come around Tesfazion to secure the win with a throw to the line.
After catching the final two breakaway riders, BridgeLane teammates Zac Marriage and Jackson Medway, the 50-rider peloton shuffled and re-grouped with attacks flying off the front. The pace amped as teams jostled for position leading to the fourth and final time up Challambra and, under pressure, a group of 18 riders separated at the front.
The first big move came from Archie Ryan (EF Education-EasyPost) with Tour Down Under winner Stephen Williams (Israel-Premier Tech) bridging across. Then Quinn Simmons (Lidl-Trek) launched a powerful attack inside of five kilometres to go. The US champion managed to get a few seconds before being reeled in by a Williams-led chase group. Simmons’ teammate Bauke Mollema countered but was caught with the finish line in sight as the small group sprinted to the line.
“Oh, incredible,” said Pithie after being told that he had won, minutes after crossing the finish line. “Had really good positions on the climbs and followed everyone.”
“I got stuck about one K to go, stuck behind Corbin [Strong] who was calling my bluff a little bit. He wanted me to go in front of him to chase Stevie [Williams], I knew I had to be patient. We spoke in the briefing this morning. Patience is gonna be key, but I knew also it’d be really easy to get caught on the barriers here. Just managed to find my way through the gap and held on.”
Pithie gave it everything to go around Tesfazion who had seemed to be headed to victory.
“I was just going balls to the wall, to be honest, full gas. And I was coming back at him, coming back at him, had to close the gap and then, you know, the Intermaché rider [Georg Zimmermann] onto the outside, not too sure who it was. He was coming quick, but I just managed to hold on and lunge.”
How it unfolded
The final race of the Australian international block rolled out from the Geelong waterfront on Sunday to a mild day and lighter winds than the women had faced on Saturday. The 176.5km race, which takes in four loops of the finishing circuit including the Challambra climb, had its first break early.
There was no hesitation for Joshua Cranage and Dylan Proctor-Parker of ARA Skip Capital and Jackson Medway (Team BridgeLane) – the winner of the U23 Australian time trial title earlier in January – with the riders from the Australian Continental teams making the most of the rare opportunity to get exposure on the world stage. They took the foot off the pedal a little to also let Zac Marriage (Team BridgeLane) make the junction so it was four working together. They quickly stretched the gap to close to four minutes and it remained there at around 140km to go.
Israel-Premier Tech were consistently working up the front to control the gap, no longer a team that could escape the spotlight after claiming the win at the Tour Down Under and entering the Victorian event with a plethora of options. Though Arkéa-B&B Hotels was also prominent, lined up en masse in red behind the lone blue jersey of Guillaume Boivin.
Heading through on the coastal roads and past Bells Beach with 126 kilometres to go the quartet was still working away together, though there may have been some discussions between the teammates to see how they could best play their hand in the upcoming intermediate spring in TorquayIsrael-Premier Tech still working on the front.
The four in the lead decided not to wait to the sprint point at 117.6km to go to start the jockeying for position. Cranage hit out early, more than a kilometre before, but Medway was quickly on his wheel and then got the gap. He used those time trial skills to forge on and grab top points and the 1000 Euro prize money that goes to the winner of each of the three race sprints.
The 19-year-old, a relative newcomer to cycling but with a triathlon background, went on with the move, quickly getting a gap to his former break companions of around one minute, while the peloton was sitting more than five minutes behind. Then at about 105km to go there was a crash near the back of the peloton, with the Tour Down Under Willunga stage winner Oscar Onley (dsm-firmenich-PostNL) seen nursing his arm and wrist. His race was over.
As the riders rolled past Thirteenth Beach and the race hit the 100km to go mark there was no doubt Medway would sweep up the second intermediate sprint, and as a result the overall sprint competition too, given that his gap was closer to two minutes than one in the preceding couple of kilometres. Once he rolled through over the bridge to Barwon Heads, with paddle boards watching the race go by from the water, and claimed the top points he slowed his roll to rejoin the three behind.
The gap to the leaders by this point was shrinking, near three minutes at 66km to go as the leaders headed into the local loop. The first climb of Challambra and the two Team BridgeLane riders, Marriage and Medway, left behind the ARA Skip Capital duo with Marriage claiming the first KOM points. Cranage and Proctor-Parker were swept up by the peloton but the BridgeLane duo also held out through the next lap to take the second round of points and then pushed to hold out for the second last climb of Challambra as the pace was hotting up in the peloton behind. Mathias Vacek and Lidl-Trek teammate Quinn Simmons, however clipped off the front and sparked a stream of chasers but the break duo just held off the charge over the top, shook hands to commemorate the massive effort and then were quickly absorbed.
The Lidl-Trek squad continued to be active at the front, with Juan Pedro Lopez and Bauke Mollema attacking multiple times. But the disorganised peloton, around 50 riders strong, were still together as they crossed the finish line for the bell lap. Teams jostled for position, and the speed increased considerably as they headed to Challambra for the fourth time. Under the impetus of Israel-Premier Tech riders Derek Gee, Nick Schultz and Stephen Williams, 18 riders split off the front.
With six kilometres to go, Archie Ryan (EF Education-EasyPost) put in a big attack followed by a counter-moved by a bandaged-up Luke Plapp (Jayco-AlUla). Attacks continued but it was still a small group together as they headed to the finish line.
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