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11th Tour Down Under - ProT

Adelaide, South Australia, Australia, January 18-25, 2009

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Prologue - January 18: Cancer Council Classic, 51 km

Complete live report

14:32 CST   
It's been a long off season and while many riders are still freezing their rears off in Northern Europe, some of the world's finest have joined us on the distant island (that's Australia) for Tour Down Under. One rider expected to prove he still fits the 'world's finest' tag is Lance Armstrong - who makes his return at the season-opening ProTour event. While the actual ProTour doesn't start 'till Tuesday, join us on Sunday, January 18 for the Cancer Council Classic - where Armstrong will make his comeback.

Coverage starts from 7:30 PM AEST.

18:55 CST   
Welcome to Cyclingnews.com’s first live road race coverage of 2009. Of course, the big question on everyone’s lips is just how fit is Lance Armstrong on his return race? It’s a question which – I’m afraid – we’re unlikely to answer tonight. Instead we will discover whether the Texan can survive the tight nature of criterium racing, something he’s not done in furry for many years.

18:55 CST   
This year’s Tour Down Under picks up in the spot last year’s 10th anniversary edition left off. Riders will contest 51 kilometres in the Cancer Council Classic on the same circuit which acted as the final stage for last year’s ProTour race.

18:55 CST   
The crowd is on its feet while the Australian national anthem is sung to kick off the race.

18:56 CST   
Event director Mike Turtur, a former Olympic gold medallist, admitted he’s proud of what’s taking place at this year’s race. Turtur has overseen every Tour Down Under today, but admitted today “I’m s**ting myself” ahead of today’s race.

18:58 CST   
The riders are bunching up while Premier Mike Rann delivers his message to those in attendance. Rann has compared Armstrong's return to the likes of Muhammad Ali.

18:58 CST   
The vibe is pumping in Rymill park, which the circuit surrounds. Families have gathered for some good food and great music which we’re sure they’re hoping will be followed by some great racing.

18:59 CST   
Today's race features three sprints, where the riders will throw it all on the line to take away the cash prize.

18:59 CST   
Lance Armstrong is also enjoying his time in Australia. "I'm relaxed because I'm having fun," Armstrong said yesterday. "I'm having a hell of a lot of fun. I will be totally honest with you, I wake up every day and I am doing this for free. I can't say 2004, 2005 was like that," he added. "I think it became a job then and I've recaptured that passion. I can't say it any simpler than I'm just having a hell of a good time."

19:00 CST   
The race director's car is loaded and the 133 strong peloton is rolling out.

19:01 CST   
The attitude seems fairly relaxed in the peloton, with two Quick Step riders chatting away while leading the peloton on its first lap of tonight's course.

19:02 CST   
Armstrong has enjoyed a love-hate relationship with cycling fans around the world. The people of Adelaide, however, seem to have struck a positive chord with the rider. Armstrong likened Adelaide to Texas in yesterday’s press conference. “I never know what to expect with these things… It’s one thing getting a good reception, it’s another when you feel really welcome,” he said. “If we left tomorrow I’d say this was one of the best trips of our lives.”

19:03 CST   
With the first lap done and dusted there's no clear leader in the peloton. The riders are continuing to rider several people wide heading into the second lap.

19:03 CST   
It’s not just fans and riders here under the Adelaide sun that are keen for the road season to kick into gear today. Already we’ve had fans telling us who they’re backing for this year’s event. Doris from Switzerland wants to hear about Alexandr Pliuschinfrom (Ag2R La Mondiale).

19:03 CST   
Keith from Canada also shared his thoughts with us: “Is it just me, or does Lance look super fit. I can't wait for the Giro when a clean Armstrong makes a doped Basso suffer again; just like the last tour they raced. Welcome back Lance. We missed you.” And John also had some words of support for the returning champion: “I think that Lance will push for the stage wins in Stirling and Willunga, but if possible, help set up Jesus Hernandez for the King of the Mountains competition.”

19:04 CST   
Two Francaise Des Jeux riders have attacked the peloton, helping string out the race for the first time this evening.

19:06 CST   
Two riders have gone clear of the peloton now, a UniSa rider has been joined by a Liquigas member around 150 metres clear of the others.

19:08 CST   
Maciej Bodnar of Liquigas has joined Australian youngster Jack Bobridge (UniSA) out the front.

19:08 CST    5/46 to go
Bobridge was fortunate enough to get some advice from Lance Armstrong (Astana) on a training ride earlier this week. Clearly his advice was attack!

19:10 CST   
Bodnar is riding at the on the fifth lap, heading towards the first sprint of the night.

19:11 CST   
Bobridge claimed the prime sprint narrowly over Bodnar. The peloton showed little interest in sprinting for third spot, let alone catching the break away at this point.

19:12 CST   
Of course Lance Armstrong isn’t the only Tour de France race winner in Adelaide, Australia’s fifth largest city, for Tour Down Under. He’s also not the only rider making a comeback (of sorts) tonight. The other is, of course, Oscar Pereiro. The 2006 Tour winner had a horrifying crash at last year’s French Grand Tour.

19:12 CST   
At a pre-race press conference today the likable Spaniard admitted he’s had moments since last July where he thought a return to racing may not be possible. Pereiro, however, is back on the bike with six weeks of training under his belt and looking in good shape.

19:14 CST   
Alexandr Pliuschin has now attacked the peloton. The Ag2R La Mondiale rider is looking to reach the two leaders on the seventh lap.

19:15 CST   
Lance Armstrong (Astana) is surrounded by his teammates in the peloton. It's the American's first criterium race in some time.

19:16 CST   
Alexandr Pliuschin, the Moldova champion, has now reached the two leaders. The trio's efforts, however, look to me ill-fated with the peloton slowly closing in.

19:16 CST   
While it was held on a different circuit in 2008, the pre-ProTour event criterium was taken by a little-known German Andre Greipel. Since then, Greipel has taken a swag of stage wins on his way to the TDU’s overall win. It was a pretty successful season for the German, he won a bunch of other races – a stage at something called the Giro d’Italia…yeah, not a bad year.

19:16 CST   
Greipel however doesn’t believe there’s any pressure on him for this year’s race. He’s probably not wrong, given the team has big names like George Hincapie and Michael Rogers in it. Columbia’s clearly here with an eye on back-to-back wins.

“I’ve looked forward to coming back,” said Greipel. I’m just happy that we can…”

19:18 CST   
Bobridge, who remains in the break with two riders, shared his thoughts on Lance Armstrong's condition with Cyclingnews. The youngster rode with the American during a training ride on Monday. “He [Lance] looked pretty fit and pretty good to me,” said Bobridge.

19:18 CST   
Team Columbia has taken to the head of the peloton, but the leaders have pulled one over them. The trio attacked while out of sight going through the esses on the circuit's rear.

19:21 CST   
We're now 10 laps into the action and the leaders have slowed a little. They're clearly still wanting to stay away, but perhaps the Christmas pudding is catching up with them.

19:22 CST   
Jack Bobridge has claimed the race's second sprint. Despite entering the final straight behind his two rivals, the youngster pulled out all the stops to do a Tom Boonen, Paris-Roubaix-esk move and take the win.

19:23 CST   
Alexandr Pliuschin crossed the line second as Poland's Maciej Bodnar backed off to settle for third place.

19:24 CST   
Tonight's performance is another impressive one from Bobridge. The rider recently claimed the Australian Open Road Under 23 championship in addition to the Under 23 Time Trial title.

19:25 CST   
Doris has also asked about another former Tour Down Under winner, Martin Elmiger, who is looking forward to the week ahead. Elmiger left Adelaide with the win in 2007 and also a broken nose, following an unfortunately incident while out celebrating his victory. “We have a good team with good spirit, and everyone is motivated. We’ve had a good training camp here, and we hope to do well again,” he said.

19:27 CST   
The trio's ride off the front has come to an end, with the peloton tacking control of the race once more.

19:28 CST   
Another Ag2R La Mondiale has gone off the front but sits barely 10 metres ahead of the Astana-led peloton.

19:28 CST   
Adelaide was founded in 1836 as the planned capital for the only freely-settled British province in Australia. While there’s no Britons in this year’s race, one can’t help but note that the Astana ship is being steered by a Briton in Sean Yates. Is the Kazakh-backed squad planning to reclaim Adelaide on tonight’s criterium?

19:29 CST   
The lone soldier has been brought back into the peloton, but the speed is clearly increasing - evident in the decreasing width of the peloton.

19:31 CST   
As the race reaches the half way mark, another two riders are off the front. Sprinter Allan Davis is joined by a Cofidis rider.

19:32 CST   
Attacks are flying out of the peloton in an effort to bring back the leaders.

19:33 CST   
Francaise Des Jeux's Jeremy Roy has attacked the peloton and started to pull out a margin over his rivals.

19:34 CST   
Roy has been brought back as the peloton continues to play cat and mouse. The speeds have increased, but the riders are struggling to get the right mix in a group at the front.

19:34 CST   
Paul Sherwin’s just one of several journalists who are backing a home-turf (sort of) rider to take honours tonight. Rabobank’s Graeme Brown is the name doing the rounds as a likely victor, a sentiment Sherwin agrees with. “Oh, it’s hard. Umm, Browny,” said Sherwin when asked for his thoughts.

19:35 CST   
Graeme Brown agrees with the calls from those in the media. “Hopefully tonight we can get our first win for the team,” he said. “For a lot of people this is their first race of the season, so there will be a few nerves out there.”

19:36 CST   
For all of you writing in wondering, Lance Armstrong (Astana) is doing exactly what he said he would in taking a cautious approach to tonight's race. The seven time Tour de France winner is riding back in the peloton, still being looked after by his Astana teammates.

19:36 CST   
Francaise Des Jeux is leading a stung out peloton. The French team clearly wants a piece of this evening's action.

19:38 CST   
A team swap for this season could prove the difference for Robbie McEwen. The Aussie is searching for a victory to start off his season with Katusha. “I’m here to go for lucky 13. If I can come in this week and get a win, that’d be fantastic.”

“Gert Steegmans can be a big help or he can win it. If you see that as a problem, you’re not a team player.”

“Every year the race [Tour Down Under] gets bigger and bigger. It seems there are twice as many hills this time.”

19:39 CST   
After winning last year's criterium precursor, Team Columbia is obviously chasing a repeat. The American squad has nearly its whole team riding towards the front of the peloton.

19:40 CST   
Another Aussie is putting in a strong show as Chris Sutton (Garmin) leads a group of four riders off the front of the peloton. The race has now reached its 19th of 30 laps.

19:41 CST   
The four riders have been brought back in, with two time Tour Down Under winner and home-town hero Stuart O'Grady now leading the peloton.

19:42 CST   
A Francaise Des Jeux rider has gone clear, way clear. Could the French team finally get a slice of tonight's prime bonuses?

19:43 CST   
Columbia is controlling the peloton too, but our Francaise Des Jeux friend is gone! The sprint will surely be his on this occasion.

19:43 CST   
Timothy Gudsell from New Zealand has claimed the sprint for Francaise Des Jeux!

19:45 CST   
A curious official crowd figure has just been released - 123,000 are reported to be at tonight's event. That's more than the Sydney Olympic Stadium can hold!

19:46 CST   
Francaise Des Jeux Timothy Gudsell is slowly winding down and allowing the peloton to bring him back. The Kiwi has pocketed the money from South Australian Lotteries.

19:46 CST   
The peloton is all back together on lap 22 of 30. The pace has slowed slightly as the real race begins.

19:48 CST   
Lampre - N.G.C now has three riders at the front, but everyone's looking to one another. Perhaps the tactics are a little rusty, with the season so young.

19:49 CST   
Just in case you didn't believe the previous crowd figure, it's now been revised. However, it's now at 138,000. Go figure.

19:50 CST   
Astana looks to be keeping way back in the peloton. Is it willing to forgo success tonight in aid of the actual ProTour race? Or do they have a card that we're yet to see played.

19:51 CST   
Just six laps out from the finish and the action in the peloton remains pretty quiet. Columbia still maintains a strong presence at the front of the peloton.

19:52 CST   
Rabobank's Mathew Hayman has moved up the field with five laps remaining. In toe is none other than Graeme Brown.

19:53 CST   
Young Timmy Duggan (Garmin) has led the peloton across the line with five laps remaining. A chilled out Duggan was enjoying the Australian weather when we ran into him in the lift at Adelaide's Hilton Hotel yesterday. (Something about it being better than Colorado at this time of year)

19:54 CST   
As we suspected Lance Armstrong is playing this one safe. The American is flanked by two teammates on his Livestrong bike, but riding nearly at the very rear of the peloton.

19:55 CST   
Michael Rogers is one of Columbia's men at the front as the race winds down. The new Australian Time Trial Champion told us earlier: “I’ve certainly got a few things to finish off that I should have a few years ago. I was only a young boy when I won here…"

19:57 CST   
With four laps remaining the peloton is getting frisky. Clear team lines are starting to develop at the front - most notably Columbia, Rabobank and NGC Medical.

19:57 CST   
Some Garmin and Milram riders are also trying to sneak a look in at the front.

19:59 CST   
The Russian squad Katusha is now putting in a show, most likely readying in the hope of a Robbie McEwen win.

20:00 CST   
Columbia's Adam Hansen had a peak at the front in a move that has seen Columbia fill the first five spots in the stung out group with three laps remaining.

20:01 CST   
Adam Hansen has swapped out, letting George Hincapie take over the action. All of Columbia's men are on the front in an amazing sight.

20:03 CST   
It's all Columbia as the race reaches its final lap. The team is pushing the pace higher in an effort to lock out its rivals.

20:03 CST   
Columbia kicks away from the peloton, not one but three of their riders.

20:04 CST   
Mark Renshaw is doing the work with Griepel in front but they won't have it all their way.

20:04 CST   
Here comes McEwen, the mighty little man is flying towards the finish line. But can Columbia hold out.

20:05 CST   
Robbie McEwen (Katusha) claims the win as Columbia's men fall out of favour.

20:06 CST   
A Milram rider claims second place, Willem Stroetinga from the Netherlands.

20:06 CST   
As we're sure everyone's wondering, Lance Armstrong finished back in the peloton. The rider is clearly saving his fight for another day - perhaps when the actual ProTour race kicks off in Tuesday.

20:08 CST   
And so it is, Robbie McEwen claims the first blow amongst the sprinters at Tour Down Under. The little Aussie is thanking the crowd and pumping the air as he does a lap of honour around the circuit.

20:09 CST   
After an enthralling sprint finish which allowed for no time to celebrate, McEwen has crossed the finish line with his arms in the air on his lap of honour.

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