Patrick Bevin announced his overall ambitions at the Tour Down Under on Tuesday with an unexpected tactical move that may pay dividends.
Punters were initially asking why the newly crowned New Zealand time trial champion had joined Jason Lea (UniSA), Artyom Zakharov (Astana) and Michael Storer (Sunweb) in the main breakaway, from which he collected five bonus seconds through intermediate primes.
“That was a GC play to try and take five seconds. It’s a bit of a gamble when it’s hot but it’s hot for everyone. There are not too many points in this race where you can say there was five seconds out there just for being out there,” said Bevin. “We went out and took it, and we start the next five stages with a head start.”
Bevin (CCC) aims to finish top five here, improving on his previous race best of 10th in 2016 and 11th last year.
The 27-year-old is playing a long game, aware he may not be able to match the likes of Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and other climbers when the race should ultimately be decided on the final stage to Willunga Hill. The Tour Down Under in recent years has been decided by mere seconds, so the strategy was smart.
“To lie down and wait for Willunga, I’m not going to win it. I’m going to have to fight for every single second and that started at kilometre zero today,” he said.
The escape established early in the race, which organisers shortened by 3.4km in anticipation of high winds. The peloton brought it back with about 40km remaining as heat and headwinds began to also factor in a stage for sprinters in which Elia Viviani (Deceuninck -Quick-Step) prevailed.
Race organisers have also made adjustments to stage two on Wednesday, with temperatures tipped to exceed 40C. Bevin conceded his effort in the heat on day one may take a toll going forward but was a risk worth taking.
“It was definitely a trade-off but I didn’t find it too bad,” he said. “Up in the hills it wasn’t terrible and because we had a group that was working there was no big effort. We rode hard for a brief period, got a gap and went back and forward with the bunch.
“You can take five seconds today and lose two minutes in three days’ time but we’re here to try and win it.”
Bevin’s teammate Jakub Mareczko finished third in the bunch sprint behind Viviani and Max Walscheid (Sunweb) in what was a solid start for the CCC team (formerly BMC).