Cadel Evans has finished fifth in the inaugural Great Ocean Road Race in his farewell to cycling.
Belgian cyclist Gianni Meersman took home the title after a tight tussle and sprint finish in the final lap in Geelong on Sunday.
Evans, the 2011 Tour de France champion, stayed with the pack throughout the day as Australia’s greatest cyclist farewelled professional racing on an emotional high note.
“It was incredibly aggressive racing and I say thanks to everyone coming out, coming to the first race but also racing so hard right from the go,” Evans told Channel Seven.
“It was almost like riding a World Championships with a slightly smaller field over a smaller distance. It was super aggressive racing. That made it really interesting.
“Those guys there, Meersman and Haas, they’re pretty quick at the finish and I was happy to make the front group at first but it wasn’t exactly the easiest group to pick.
“Also in the finish there, I came from a reasonably good position. You’ll be able to tell me more about that but didn’t have the legs.
“I think even if I had the legs those guys are quicker than me when I finished.”
In a pulsating contest, held in wet and windy conditions, Etixx-Quick Step rider Meersman won a nine-man sprint at the end of the 174km race.
Australia’s Simon Clarke took second and compatriot Nathan Haas third.
A group of five riders, featuring Australian domestic riders Darcy Woolley, Josh Taylor and Brodie Talbot, formed early in the race.
They built a lead of four and a half minutes.
But disaster struck for Luxembourg rider Laurent Didier, who crashed after about 50km.
He was taken to hospital with a suspected broken hand, reducing the breakaway to four riders, and their advantage quickly dropped.
With 82km to go, Cannondale-Garmin used the crosswind to launch a withering attack that split the peloton.
Evans was among the big names who were caught out by the move, which ignited the race.
From there, constant attacks shredded the peloton.
The race came down to three laps of a hilly 20km circuit in Geelong.
Evans and then key rival Richie Porte attacked near the end of the second lap, but they were marked closely.
At the start of the last lap, Evans’ BMC team-mate Danilo Wyss and Porte’s Sky colleague Ian Stannard were at the front along with Etixx-Quick Step rider Peter Serry.
They were soon joined by Australian Simon Clarke and then Swiss Martin Elmiger.
The lead changed again on the last steep climb at Challambra Crescent, with the race coming down to a 10-man lead group.
After Moreno Moser’s solo attack in the last six kilometres failed, he dropped back and the remaining nine contested the finish with the peloton approaching fast.
Evans said he had little chance against faster men such as Meersman and Haas.