ADELAIDE, Australia – Caleb Ewan of Australia won stage two and claimed the overall lead in the Tour Down Under cycle race Wednesday as the first event of the World Tour season wound through landscapes scorched by recent wildfires.
Ewan showed his immense power in the uphill sprint to the finish to race away from defending champion Daryl Impey of South Africa at the end of the 135.8 kilometer (84 mile) stage from Woodside to Stirling.
He claimed his eighth stage win of his career on his home tour in 3 hours, 27 minutes, 31 seconds.
Australia’s Nathan Haas was third and Jasper Philipsen of Belgium fourth.
First stage winner Sam Bennett of Ireland was 13th, credited with the same time as Ewan. But Ewan claimed a 10 second time bonus for the stage win to take over from Bennett in the tour leader’s ocher jersey.
Ewan and Bennett are credited with the same time on general classification but Ewan, who finished seventh on the first stage, holds the race lead on count back.
Impey moved into a challenging position, only a second behind the race leader while Philpsen is fourth, four seconds behind Ewan.
“I’m super happy with that,” Ewan said. “Yesterday things didn’t go to plan and I think we spoke for about an hour in the room about what we can do better.
“The boys did absolutely perfect today, they did everything I asked for and I headed to the line in perfect position.”
A crash within two kilometers of the line Wednesday fractured the peloton and left only about 25 riders in contention but Ewan stayed out of trouble and was left perfectly placed to unleash his sprint.
“You can’t do it on your own and I said to (the team) yesterday if I’m going to win today’s stage it’s a tough one and I’m going to need all the help I can get,” Ewan said.
Bennett also avoided the late pileup and was in a strong position heading towards the finish but he didn’t have Ewan’s late acceleration.
“In top form I know I can do a finish like this but in January it’s just good to be here,” Bennett said. “To have these legs already in the season is pretty good.
“At 200 meters to go I thought this could be a good day but I got off the saddle and there’s nothing there.”
The race Wednesday passed through bush land and vineyards showing the scars of recent wildfires. At times the riders rode through a brown wasteland of burned trees.
The course was planned before the fires and locals insisted it should go ahead as part of the recovery from the recent crisis.
Thursday’s third stage will favor climbers, featuring a stiff climb to the finish atop a hill at Paracombe.