Renshaw claims first Tour Down Under stage

Australian breaks through with ProTour win

Australia's Mark Renshaw left it late but timed his sprint to perfection to claim the opening stage of the Tour Down Under on Tuesday.

The Credit Agricole rider attacked with 300 metres to go on the difficult uphill finishing stretch to hold off Spaniard Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil in a bunch sprint and take the 129km stage from Adelaide to Angaston.

Renshaw was part of a 132-man peloton which set off on Tuesday morning for the 10th running of the Tour Down Under, but the first since it was granted ProTour status by international cycling body UCI. In near perfect conditions with the temperature hovering around 26 degrees all day, three riders almost stole the glory when they broke away a third of the way into the stage.

Frenchmen Mickaël Buffaz (Cofidis) and Dimitri Champion (Bouygues Telecom), and young Australian Richie Porte (UniSa) went clear after 41 kilometres and at one stage had the lead out to almost seven minutes.

They fought out the two sprints between them but soon after the second at 84.6km, the peloton decided to act and, led by Credit Agricole and CSC, they began to reel in the breakaways, gathering them in with just five kilometres remaining and leaving the way clear for the sprinters.

"At 100 metres to go I didn't think I was going to get there because I went so early," Renshaw said. "At 300 to go they kind of split at the front and I decided I had to go early because of the split, so I went with 200 to go.

"I didn't know who was behind me or who was there."

The 25-year-old Renshaw has been a professional for five years, two years with Française Des Jeux and three with Credit Agricole. He said team management had sat him down at the beginning of the week and told him he had to make his mark on the professional tour in 2008.

"I've been chasing a ProTour win for four years now and finally I got one, and it was in Australia," he said.

Renshaw said he was always confident of catching the breakaways. "I knew they were going to come back - my team worked really hard so I needed to repay them."

Renshaw's teammate and compatriot Simon Gerrans was considered Credit Agricole's main chance to take the Tour, but Renshaw would not rule himself out either. "I can't count it out of the question, that's for sure," he said. "Each year is a little bit easier, so it's possible."

Buffaz took the first sprinter's jersey after winning both sprints on the break. The Frenchman said he tried to hold off the chasing pack but just wasn't able to do so.

"Unfortunately we were caught at the finish - we (the breakaway) tried to ride a tactical race and stepped off the gas a bit so when they started coming at the end we could pick it back up again, but unfortunately we couldn't make it," Buffaz said. "It wasn't really an intentional attack - it's just that we've (Cofidis) got the custom of trying to be at the front, trying to keep up there and that's the way the race ended up - we got away."

Belgian Philippe Gilbert of Française Des Jeux took an early lead in the King of the Mountain classification when he took the first points on offer.

Wednesday's 148km second stage will be between Stirling in the Adelaide Hills and the small town of Hahndorf. The Tour finishes on Sunday with an 88k circuit though the streets of Adelaide.

© AFP 2008

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