Credit: Con Chronis / Jayco Herald Sun Tour
Alberto Dainese (Team Sunweb) was the quickest in the dash to the line at the sprint finish in Shepparton in Stage 1 of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.
Dainese squeezed his way to the victory ahead of Kaden Groves (Mitchelton-Scott) and Moreno Hofland (EF Education First). It was a tricky run to the finish, with a four-lane road narrowing to two in the final kilometre with the last bend at 300 metres to go. Dainese passed Hofland and a fast-finishing Groves flashed home in the finale to also pass Hofland to claim second.
Dainese also took the race lead with the stage victory and spoke to the press after the finish.
“Of course, it’s a nice feeling,” said Dainese. “First day, first win. We’ll now try to keep (doing) this for the whole week.
“This is my second professional win [after winning a stage of the 2019 Czech Cycling Tour while with the SEG Racing Academy], but my first as part of a WorldTour team.
“It was a wide road coming into the finish, and we stayed on the front for the last few kilometres. Then it got a bit messy, but Max Kanter go me through the last corner in fifth or sixth position, so that I could start my sprint. It was a tight one, as the lead-out guys from EF were at the front, and I had to close a little gap. But it was fine in the end, and I’m happy I got it.”
Dainese was solid in his first WorldTour hit-out at the Tour Down Under, and went on to claim third at Race Torquay in a close finish behind Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
“I’ve had a good winter – or summer for the Australians – and at the Tour Down Under, I sprinted twice and got two top 10s, but it wasn’t easy against some of the best sprinters in the world. I still need a bit more practice! I’m only 21, so I hope I can still improve in the next few years, and we’ll see how it goes.”
It’s the neo-pro Italian’s first victory in Team Sunweb colours, with sports director Luke Roberts having great hope for the potential development of the young sprinter.
“Alberto is a young talent,” said Roberts. “Italian guy, he came up to the Netherlands last year to race with a Dutch continental team (SEG Racing) with Kaden Groves. He raced a lot in the Netherlands, that’s where our team office is, so we kept a good eye on him.
“He picked up several victories and showed a huge amount of talent. We contacted him quite early – I think it was in May that I sat down with him – and got to know him.
“He’ll be a pretty good fit in the team and it’s a good start for him. He’s had four sprints with the team and has gone 10th, 5th, 3rd and 1st… I think he’ll be a big talent.”
Birthday boy Ben Hill (Team Bridgelane), who turned 30 today, was chosen as the most aggressive rider after spending the day in the breakaway, taking out the second intermediate sprint and being the last one caught by the peloton.
“It was actually quite cold at the start of the race, a pretty short day and we had a tailwind for the first half of it, so it wasn’t too bad,” said Hill. “To get the sprint jersey I would have had to have got both today.”
Hill was part of an initial move that got off the front of the race, but was brought back before going again after the first intermediate sprint had been won by Roy Eefting (Team Sapura).
“I went early for the first one but we got brought back ,” said Hill, “then I went out for the second one. Ideally, if I was going to get on the podium today it would have been for the stage. I’m not going to do it in a sprint so I had to go for the breakaway, I couldn’t get all the points in the sprint, so I had to hit them in the finish to get most aggressive.”
Hill’s breakaway companions, Ryan Thomas (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast), Jesse Coyle (Nero Continental), Connor Murtagh (Oliver’s Real Food Racing), Charles-Etienne Chretien (Aevolo) formed a useful group of the front of the race, but the peloton weren’t interested in giving them too much leeway and pegged their advantage at three minutes or below for most of the stage.
“They never really gave us a chance,” said Hill, “so we rode a bit negatively in the finish to try and ride for most aggressive.”
Hill looked ahead to Stage 3 for his next big chance in the race.
“Stage 3 is probably the best chance all tour for a break to survive,” said Hill. “I think it depends how tomorrow goes with the time gaps and everything, but you have the pure sprinters for Stage 1 and 5, and Stages 2 and 4 for the pure climbers. Stage 3, a lot of opportunists will be trying to get up the road and I’m hoping for an exciting stage that day.”
The men’s race will continue with a stage from Beechworth to Falls Creek, with the best climbers expected to come to the fore on the mountaintop finish.
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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger