Italian cycling star crashes out of Tour Down Under

Italian cycling star Giovanni Visconti is in hospital with a suspected compound leg fracture after he crashed at the Tour Down Under.

The three-time Italian road champion was involved in a crash early in the People’s Choice Classic, the curtain raiser to this week’s Adelaide Tour.

German Marcel Kittel won the 25-lap, 50km street race on the River Torrens ahead of compatriot and fellow sprint ace Andre Greipel.

While there was no surprise about those two taking the first two places, Australian rising star Caleb Ewan again showcased his massive potential by claiming third.

Visconti is the second international star to be forced out of the Tour, which is scheduled to start on Tuesday.

High-profile French rider Thomas Voeckler had to return home when he crashed on a training ride last Wednesday and fractured his right collarbone, only hours after arriving in Adelaide.

Visconti most recently won the Italian road title in 2011.

He also won two stages in last year’s Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy).

Several other riders went down in the crash where Visconti was hurt, but he was the only rider hospitalised.

Kittel, 25, rides for Giant-Shimano and won four stages in last year’s Tour de France.

Greipel is a two-time Tour Down Under overall winner and has also taken out 14 stages, a race record.

Greipel’s powerful Lotto-Belisol team set him up perfectly for the finish, but Kittel blasted past him on the line.

“I’m really impressed by the boys today they did a great job, a big thank you goes to the team,” Kittel said.

“The first sprint of the season is always complicated so it’s always a bit of a waiting game and you need a bit of luck to be in the perfect position and I was in the perfect spot to start my sprint.

“It’s always a relief to get the first win, now we can take it a little easy.

“I always love starting my season in Australia.

“In a race of 50 kilometres everyone is fresh at the end so I had to time my sprint just perfectly.”

Ewan, who is riding for the UniSA composite team, is making his Tour Down Under debut.

He won two under-23 titles at last week’s Australian road championships and has already signed a contract with Orica-GreenEDGE.

Ewan, 19, will join the top Australian team in August.

“I’m actually a little bit frightened now – they’re amazing, those guys,” Ewan said of going up against Kittel and Greipel in his WorldTour debut.

“I tried to kick and he (Kittel) was just riding away from me.

“Wow – it’s crazy.”

Asked why he felt frightened after such an impressive performance, Ewan said: “I have to (go against) them in a year and that’s the level that I’m going to be expected to sprint at.”

Ewan said he hoped Sunday’s performance had earned him more respect from other riders in the peloton.

“It was really tough today, I really had to fight for position,” he said.

“A lot of these Europeans don’t know who I am and just think I’m a little punter coming into the race.

“It’s natural they don’t give me much respect, but now hopefully I’ve showed myself to them.

“I know I can be up there in the pointy end of the race, so it just gives me a bit more confidence for the next few days.”

The six-day Tour is due to start on Tuesday in the Barossa.

But a nearby bushfire might force the opening stage from Nuriootpa to Angaston to be cancelled, with a final decision to be made on Monday afternoon.

Tour de France winner Cadel Evans, the star rider in this year’s Tour Down Under field, finished the race on Sunday without incident.

“The first (WorldTour) race of the year is always a little bit nervous,” the BMC team leader said.

“It’s great to get the season started and our team cohesion going.

“We (BMC) all passed through safely and that’s a good start.”

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