Caleb Ewan's Tour of Britain defence has perfect start in Scotland
The 190-kilometre haul always looked likely to end in a tight finish over the cobbles in Kelso Square and the race did not disappoint, with a quartet of riders crossing the line in a blanket finish. However, the testing nature of the route meant that the climb out of Melrose with 25 kilometres left to race caused a thinning out of the fast finishers and meant that only four contested the final sprint.
And Ewan, pictured right, just pipped the Norwegian Boasson Hagen, twice a winner of the overall title and the favoured rider in the Dimension Data team which is seeking a third successive overall victory.
The first attack of note came after 20 kilometres when eight riders, all from different teams, hit the front and started to draw clear of the peloton.
Mark McNally (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) took the points in the opening intermediate sprint of the day at Gifford as the breakaway continued to forge a lead that would peak at more than three minutes. There was little opportunity to recover before the first climb and this time it was Connor Swift (Madison-Genesis) who took the points.
Karol Domagalski (ONE Pro) crashed after being hit by a team car but recovered quickly to rejoin the breakaway group which contested the second sprint in Coldstream, with Graham Briggs (JLT Condor) scooping the points. The race passed through Kelso just after the half way point, offering the riders a glimpse of how the finish was laid out.
The field then set out on a long loop that saw the lead dwindle until all but Domagalski – who ended the day as leader of the sprints competition – and his fellow Pole Lukasz Owsian (CCC Sprandi-Polkowice), who tops the climbers’ standings, had been overhauled. The duo swept up the sprint points outside the Greenyards in Melrose and were still clear at the foot of Dingleton, the long climb that offered the final king of the mountains points. By the summit, the field was back together, although the climb had taken its toll on some of the sprinters.
The Dundee rider, Mark Stewart, pictured above right, competing in the colours of the Irish An Post-Chain Reaction, made a brief appearance at the front and the only other Scot, Tao Geoghegan Hart – London-born with a Scottish father – had been the workhorse for Team Sky throughout the day and was tailed off towards the finale.
With teams only comprising six riders, it was difficult for any squad to exert complete dominance and the tight final bend across Kelso bridge narrowed down the contenders for the win. Ewan had the benefit of a strong lead out and he reacted quickest when Boasson Hagen opened up, rattling across the cobbled surface and throwing his bike at the line to pip his rival. Viviani, the winner in Kelso two years ago, took third spot, with the other rider in the photo finish, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin), fourth. Chris Lawless of the Great Britain team was the leading home rider in sixth spot.
Ewan, who has had a fine season, posting four stage wins at the Tour Down Under and another at the Giro d’Italia, as well as several other successes, said: “It was a tough day. It was really windy and a few times teams tried to split it as well. I was kind of nervous all day and my boys pulled really well and went to the front straight away after the breakaway. And they controlled it basically from start to finish, so hats off to them.”
And of the bumpy run to the line, he added: “I couldn’t do my normal style of sprint. We came through the finish line the first time so I got to have a good look at the road.
“I knew when I was going to start my sprint that I couldn’t really go down to my natural low position. I had to stay upright a little bit.”
The race continues today with the 211 kilometre haul from Kielder Forest to Blyth, the longest of the eight-day event which finishes in Cardiff on Sunday.
UCI Europe Tour: Tour of Britain, Great Britain: Final leading positions after Stage 1, (Edinburgh - Kelso - 190km): 1 Caleb Ewan (Aus) Orica-Scott 4h 34m 17s, 2 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data, 3 Elia Viviani (Ita) Team Sky, 4 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin, 5 Fernando Gaviria (Col) Quick-Step Floors, 6 Chris Lawless (Gbr) Great Britain, 7 Brenton Jones (Aus) JLT Condor, 8 Nikolas Maes (Bel) Lotto Soudal, 9 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Quick-Step Floors, 10 Floris Gerts (Ned) BMC Racing Team
General classification after stage 1: 1 Caleb Ewan (Aus) Orica-Scott 4h 34m 07s, 2 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data at 3s, 3 Karol Domagalski (Pol) One Pro Cycling at 4s, 4 Elia Viviani (Ita) Team Sky at 6s, 5 Alexander Kristoff
(Nor) Katusha-Alpecin at 10s, 6 Fernando Gaviria (Col) Quick-Step Floors, 7 Chris Lawless (Gbr) Great Britain, 8 Brenton Jones (Aus) JLT Condor, 9 Nikolas Maes (Bel) Lotto Soudal, 10 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Quick-Step Floors all same time.