• (Kathryn Watt - Watt Shotz Photography)
Caleb Ewan won the People's Choice Classic criterium for the second straight year ahead of Tuesday’s Santos Tour Down Under official start.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
15 Jan 2017 - 10:57 PM  UPDATED 16 Jan 2017 - 11:04 AM

Ewan (Orica-Scott) was too strong in the final sprint at the end of the 50.6km prelude to the Tour, raced over 22 laps of a 2.3km street circuit in downtown Adelaide.

He held out the challenges of Sam Bennett and Peter Sagan, both riding for the newly minted German outfit BORA-Hansgrohe.

The victory was the first test of a leadout partnership between Ewan and new 2017 signing Roger Kluge.

“I’m really happy it started off well with Roger,” Ewan said. “It was the first race I have raced with him and he dropped me off perfectly, right at the front, and that was the first time I had to touch the wind.”

“I don’t think it usually happens like that (working so well together in the first race) but all I had to do was follow him. He sat behind me with a few laps to go to give me a smooth ride and came around me with a lap to go.

“I definitely feel the pressure but I try to keep it pretty relaxed. My team backed me 100 per cent, they rode straight away when the breakaway left and I just cruised down the back (of the peloton) most the day to save my energy.”

Second-placed Bennett admitted he was wracked with nerves when he learned double world champion Peter Sagan would pilot him in the race.

“It’s a lot of pressure before the start,” Bennett said. “I almost couldn’t deal with the pressure because it’s the world champion, such a big rider, and to have him leading me out was nerve wracking.

“I didn’t know how my form was and he was so willing to lead me out,” he continued. “I just didn’t want to mess it up, or take an opportunity away from him. Also, like, it’s the season opener really and everybody is watching it. Peter Sagan leading me out - I was shaking.”

Bennett is developing as a fast-man at the now top-tier Bora-Hansgrohe that Sagan joins this season after his former Tinkoff stable folded.

Such is Sagan’s profile in the sport that rivals marked him, over Bennett, in the closing kilometres.

“He was marked even when he was trying to do a lead-out. In the last corner they were still pushing for his wheel,” Bennett said. “I was kind of like, ‘hello, I’m here too!’ That’s why he had to hang back until a kilometre to go because the fight was for his wheel.”

Sagan was measured in his assessment of the prelude with the real fireworks to commence with stage one of the Tour Down Under on Tuesday.

The Slovak sensation has downplayed his chances of race title success, pointing to Australian Jay McCarthy, who spent a stint in the leader’s jersey last year.

However, pundits are still coining the five-time Tour de France green jersey winner an ‘enigma’ capable of taking title honours despite his traditionally modest starts to each season.

Sunday was about Bennett, however, and he is already learning under the team’s new marquee man.

“He’s so relaxed, even in the final,” Bennett said. “Coming into the last corner he’s still speaking, ‘relax,’ and it was inside the last 500m - I was full stress. It was a good experience and a nice way to start the season.”