Unlucky Italian unleashes fierce sprint
ALBERTO Dainese has powered into the Herald Sun yellow jersey after a fourth-time lucky sprint won him a thrilling race opener in Shepparton.
Dainese, 21, unleashed a fierce acceleration at the end of the 121.9km stage from Mitchelton Winery to edge out Australian Kaden Groves (Mitchelton-Scott) and Dutchman Moreno Hofland (EF Pro Cycling).
It was a fitting reward for the Italian, who had this year finished 10th, 5th and 3rd for Team Sunweb in his first three sprints at WorldTour level.
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"Of course, it's a nice feeling. First stage, first win and we tried to get this to kickstart our week," Dainese said.
"It's been a good month for me (in Australia) and it was a good opportunity today."
The 67th edition of Australia's oldest stage race burst to life when Ben Hill drove a five-man breakaway that included Ryan Thomas, Conor Murtagh, Charles-Étienne Chrétien and Jesse Coyle.
But that group was kept on a tight leash and when it was eventually swallowed up by a hungry peloton, Dainese's Team Sunweb surged to the head of the main field with 5km remaining.
"It was a wide road and we kept the front for a few kilometres and then it got a bit messy, but Max Kanter put me into the last corner in fifth or sixth position so I could start my sprint," Dainese said.
"It was tight in the end, but I'm happy I got it. We went to the front a bit early, but we were the strongest today and I couldn't miss the win."
While Sunweb have drawn first blood, their anticipated general classification battle with Mitchelton-Scott starts Thursday on the Stage 2 roads to Falls Creek, with Sunweb's Aussie duo Rob Power and Jai Hindley to lock horns with star Brit Simon Yates.
Sunweb's Australian sports director Luke Roberts said the Stage 1 triumph had given his young squad a confidence boost in what had been a difficult summer.
"I was hoping in this race that they could become the dog and not the tree as they were in the WorldTour races," Roberts said.
"We've got a really young team here; the same guys who rode Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and they had a bit of a hard time there, as we probably expected being such a young team.
"But hopefully Rob (Power) and Jai (Hindley) will be among the best climbers tomorrow and we can challenge for the overall podium with one of those guys."
Hindley, speaking after crossing the Stage 1 finish line, said: "I'm definitely going for the GC."
Roberts warned that Yates, the 2018 Vuelta a Espana champion, would need to be good.
"Of course, Simon isn't here for a holiday and he would like to go away with a victory from here," Roberts said.
"But the whole peloton will be watching him so he'll also need to bring his A-game, but I'm expecting he will and I hope my guys can be up there challenging for it."