It was a nail-biting finish to the inaugural Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, with Belgium rider Gianni Meersman crossing the line first after a 200m sprint from a nine-man pack that included the retiring Australian cyclist the race is named after.
Meersman, described by veteran commentator Phil Liggett as a quick finisher and solid climber, did not disappoint, accelerating away from his rivals with just seconds to go in a dramatic race that saw rising Australian star Simon Clarke take second and compatriot Nathan Haas third. Evans, who joined the leaders with just a few kilometres left in the 174km race, came in 5th to end his distinguished career, which includes becoming the first and only Australian to win the Tour de France.
Meersman said his defining moments came in the first climb and the last lap and the first climb, in which he took a few gambles to make sure he secured a position in the first group.
“I am really happy, already been here for four weeks, so I’m really excited that this is my first win for the season,” he said after the race.
While it wasn’t the dream finish his fans hoped for, Cadel Evans showed his class one final time in the tough, wet and windy conditions.
Having rode a strong and tactical race Evans was proud have fought to the finish in the last race of his stellar career in his home state, in Geelong, Victoria.
“It was incredibly aggressive racing and thanks to everyone… racing so hard right from the go, it was like riding a world championships.
“I was happy to make the front group, but it wasn’t the easiest group to pick.. but I just didn’t have the legs.”
When asked how he was going to spend his first day of retirement Evans said: “I think I might go for a little ride,” he laughed, adding that he owed his son a fishing trip, “He’s been waiting a few years”.
Last year Evans, along with the Victorian government created the a new international road race – the first of its kind in Australia, inspired by the prestigious Spring Classics of Europe.
The 174km event featured an undulating course and likely strong winds, a testing course even for the elite.
Not only is Evans Australia’s only rider to win the Tour de France, but he is also one of the great names in the sport and is the only cyclist in the history to have been at the top of both mountain biking and road classifications.
Now watch the gripping last kilometres, and that epic finish.
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