ADELAIDE (Reuters) - Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan edged his rivals to claim the opening stage of the Tour Down Under on Tuesday, the Orica-Scott rider bolting clear in a bunch finish after organizers had reduced the race due to extreme heat.
As the peloton battled temperatures of around 40 degrees Celsius, race organizers opted to shave 26.5 km off the Unley-to-Lyndoch stage and the 22-year-old Ewan timed his sprint to perfection to claim the overall lead.
Dutchman Danny van Poppel (Team Sky) finished second as Ireland's Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) rounded out the top three and the race's main drawcard, double world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), finished safely in the pack in the same time.
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"Everyone felt the heat out there today and to have the race shortened a little bit is what we needed," Ewan said after winning the opening stage for a second year in a row.
"A lot of riders ran out of gas in the lead out in that last straight because there was a lot of headwind there," he added.
"Many riders misjudged it and it was a super messy sprint but It's going to be a really nice feeling to have the leaders jersey tomorrow."
The six-stage race around South Australia is the opening event on the UCI WorldTour calendar and continues with a 148.5 km run from Stirling to Paracombe on Wednesday, a day which should suit the climbers more than the sprinters.
The race concludes in Adelaide on Sunday.
(Writing by John O'Brien in Singapore; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)