Clarke started the day in the yellow leader’s jersey courtesy of his Prologue victory on Thursday, meaning that with three riders up the road, Drapac had control of the chase on the 114km circuit course.
“All the boys worked hard today on a difficult and potentially dangerous course – there were lots of crashes and splits in the windy sections,” explained Drapac’s Director of Performance, Keith Flory. “So although Wouter crossed the line first, it was yet again a huge team win.”
The breakaway was finally reeled in with just over a lap remaining of the 16.3km circuit and just 81 of the 114 starters completed today’s stage, a sure sign of the carnage created the testing racing conditions. With the remnants of the peloton scattered, the lead-out for Wippert from Clarke began with 800 metres before the finish line. Confident of victory, Wippert had enough time to salute with both arms raised in victory as he hit the chequered flag. So strong was Clarke that he finished as runner-up on the stage, just ahead of Lucas Sebastian Haedo (Skydive Dubai).
“We tried to control the race but was it hard with narrow and tricky sections,” said Wippert. “Today was a really great team performance again and a perfect lead out by Will – and even better to get 1 and 2.”
Friday’s victory marks Wippert’s sixth of the 2014 season. The 23-year-old Dutchman has a four-second advantage over Clarke in the General Classification heading into Saturday’s penultimate stage. In the battle for the green jersey and Points Classification, Wippert on 33 points is 3 ahead of Clarke with Haedo 14 points in arrears.
Jordan Kerby’s ride also earned him the lead in the Under-23 Classification.
Stage 2 looms as a difficult one with 109.3km to be covered including a climb featuring a gain of over 300 metres in altitude in around six kilometres.
“We have some cards to play but there are other dangerous teams too,” said Flory.
“We’ll try as a team to keep the jersey in the team on what will be a very hard day with some good climbs,” said Wippert.
Results snapshot – Drapac Professional Cycling, Tour de Kumano Stage 1:
1 Wouter Wippert (Ned) 2:33:21
2 Will Clarke (Aus) +0:00:00
17 Jordan Kerby (Aus)
21 Jai Crawford (Aus)
32 Lachlan Norris (Aus)
66 Adam Phelan (Aus) +0:01:23
1 Wouter Wippert (Ned) 2:34:02
2 Will Clarke (Aus) +0:00:04
14 Jordan Kerby (Aus) +0:00:13
27 Lachlan Norris (Aus) +0:00:14
28 Jai Crawford (Aus)
63 Adam Phelan (Aus) +0:01:37