Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas held on the Santos Tour Down Under race lead, but it was Tom-Jelte Slagter who won the demanding third stage to Stirling with a blistering ride to the line.
We're here with a nice team with four Aussies, and this is a win for whole team. For the team at home it's nice too.
Slagter, of Blanco Cycling, finished strongly, riding away from the wheels of a fast-finishing Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE) and UCI road world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) on the demanding 139km stage that was marked out as one where a breakaway would survive, but didn't.
"It's incredible. I can't believe it," Slagter said after the victory, his first on the pro tour circuit and the first for his team.
"I saw on the big screen I was the first one, and I was looking around me. I thought they were coming, but I was the strongest. Incredible."
The day started with a pair of Australians breaking away to a gap of over 3min 30sec, Simon Clarke of Orica-GreenEDGE and the man who won the similar stage to Stirling in 2012, Will Clarke (Argos Shimano).
The pair left the peloton early and sustained their pace at the front to quickly build that lead at 45km, but with Simon Clarke the ‘virtual leader’ on the road, a vigilant Sky kept the time gap in check with some well-paced riding.
As the rolling five laps around Stirling reduced the lead of the Clarkes, fluctuating from just more than two minutes to 3min 20sec, and with less than 50km to go the first of a number attempts was launched to bring them back.
Blanco’s Jack Bobridge initiated a move that brought a reaction from the peloton that resulted in Clarke and Clarke gaining several partners after 98km.
While Bobridge dropped off the chase, the leading pair was joined by Steve Morabito (BMC), Andrey Amador (Movistar), Boy Van Poppel (Vacansoleil-DCM), Brian Vandborg (Cannondale) while receiving additional support from Thierry Hupond (Argos-Shimano) and Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE) to create an eight rider threat to the peloton.
With 15km to ride and 20sec in hand the break splintered after an attack by Amador, first losing Vandborg then Van Poppel and Will Clarke to the demands of the course.
The reign of Amador, Morabito, Simon Clarke, Impey and Hupond came to an end as the peloton reeled them in.
"Our team didn’t have a good day yesterday," said Simon Clarke. "We wanted to make it up and be aggressive with having at least one rider in the early breakaway, it had to be Daryl Impey, Luke Durbridge or myself. As it worked out, I found the right wheel and I did what I could.
"It’s been good because it took the pressure off the team. Gossy [Matt Goss] coming second is a good result. It was funny to hear ‘go Clarke’ as we were two Clarke’s up the road. Will and I looked at each other and laughed. We got that feeling that we doubled the amount of spectators."
Tiago Machado (RadioShack-Leopard Trek) then staked his claim to the leaders jersey with a solo effort with less than 3km remaining.
Machado’s lead lasted 2km and the last kilometre became a scramble of riders looking for their first big win of the season.
Slagter paid special tribute to his Australian team-mates in the former Rabobank team, still reeling from losing that sponsorship in the wake of the Lance Armstrong affair.
"(David) Tanner was incredible. He told me would drop me in last few metres and he did. The whole team did a really good job today.
"We're here with a nice team with four Aussies, and this is a win for whole team. For the team at home it's nice too."
Race leader Thomas was satisfied with his team's work for the day, but appeared frustrated that Slagter had gained ground on him with his strong finsh.
"I couldn't manage a podium finish today. It would have been nice to get a few more seconds bonus," the Briton said.
"It was a tough day, but mission accomplished I guess. It would have been better if he (Slagter) didn't get it.
"There is always going to be seconds in it. Will all come down to a big dual on Willunga on Saturday."http://media.sbs.com.au/cyclingcentral/upload_media/1992_duggan-500-aap.jpg
American road champion Timothy Duggan was a casualty of the day's racing after crashing at a roundabout. The 30-year-old was taken to hospital for treatment.
"It was 2km to go on the circuit with two laps to go on the round-about, he was on the right side," said Duggan's team director Fabrizio Guidi of the crash.
"The doctor was immediately there, that was good. He was conscious and he was talking before they took him to the hospital. I don't know what happened, but he had pain on the collarbone. We have to wait."
Stage 1: 139km, Unley to Stirling
1 Tom-Jelte Slagter (NED) Blanco 3hr 36min 46sec
2 Matthew Goss (AUS) Orica-GreenEDGE
3 Philippe Gilbert (BEL) BMC
4 Geraint Thomas (GBR) Sky
5 Giovanni Visconti (ITA) Movistar
6 Javier Moreno (ESP) Movistar
7 Simone Ponzi (ITA) Astana
8 Dienele Pietropolli (ITA) Lampre-Merida
9 Ivan Santamorita (ITA) BMC
10 Gorka Izagirre (ESP) Euskaltel
1 Geraint Thomas (GBR) Sky 9hr 56min 17sec
2 Tom-Jelte Slagter (NED) Blanco 0:00:05
3 Javier Moreno Bazan (ESP) Movistar 0:00:06
4 Ben Hermans (BEL) RadioShack Leopard Trek 0:00:08
5 Daniele Pietropolli (ITA) Lampre-Merida 0:00:15
6 Ion Izagirre (ESP) Euskaltel
7 Gorka Izagirre (ESP) Euskaltel Euskadi
8 George Bennett (NZL) RadioShack Leopard Trek
9 Jack Bauer (NZL) Garmin-Sharp
10 Wilco Kelderman (NED) Blanco