Copyright: Mario Stiehl Photography.

Former Czech champion Roman Kreuziger finished off a great team performance by ORICA-SCOTT in the team’s first appearance at theOtztaler Pro 5500 in the Austrian Alps.

Billed as the world’s hardest one-day race, the event covered a truly epic parcours over four alpine passes in 238kilometres and included an astounding 5,500metres of elevation.

Infiltrating the early breakaway with Ruben Plaza before whittling down the favourites group over the subsequent climbs with Damien Howson, the Australian outfit played a strong hand at the perfect moment.

First Plaza dropped back as the last of the breakaway was caught before Howson split the group further with Kreuziger delivering the final blows on the last climb and flying into a long and victorious descent to the finish with a healthy advantage.

22-year-old Robert Power capped off a great day for the team by taking fourth place, narrowly missing out on the podium.

“It’s really satisfying to get the victory,” said Kreuziger. “It is my first win this season and I have been waiting for this moment. The team have been winning and performing very strongly throughout the year and I feel like this has been coming.”

“It was important for us having Ruben in the break because it set us up nicely for the final climb, I spoke to Damien and told him I was feeling good and he really set the pace perfectly.

“The descent was almost as hard as the climbs because I was starting to cramp, but I came through ok and thankfully managed to finish it off. Big thanks to all of the team for everything, I feel great and I’m looking forward to a strong end to the season now.”

Sport director Matt White praised the efforts of the team in such a heavy race.

“The boys were great today,” said White. “We were pretty happy with how it played out early on with Ruben in the break, but we never really stepped off the front foot and once we arrived at the final climb we still had numbers in what was left of the bunch.”

“Roman spoke to Damo, told him he felt good and from there Damo really set a strong pace and laid the foundation for the final. The climbs were so long and at that altitude it can take a lot out of you, but in the end Roman measured his effort perfectly.

“The win sets us up perfectly for a positive end to the season and going into the next one day races in Canada and Italy with good form and confidence. Rob rode very well and it’s pleasing to see the work he has put in starting to bear fruit, it’s a great sign for the tail end of this season and also for next year. Very happy all round today.”

How it happened:

Sunny conditions welcomed the riders to the start and the early attacks began straight out of the neutral zone with an early breakaway jumping clear with eight riders involved that initially included Roger Kluge for ORICA-SCOTT.

Kluge dropped back early on as the break fell apart before reforming, this time with Plaza – the veteran Spaniard using all of his experience to drive the move forward.

Past the halfway point and the group started to split as Plaza pushed on to form a leading duo, gaining one minute over their former companions and some two minutes 30seconds on the heavily reduced peloton with 75kilometres to go.

Howson, Power and Kreuziger held their positions well at the front of the group of favourites as they began to close in on the chasers with Plaza now solo at the front with two minutes in hand.

As Plaza hit the final 28kilometre climb, the Timmelsjoch, he was joined by Swiss rider Roland Thalman with the Howson group less than two minutes behind and the tempo being set by Bardiani-CSF.

The gap closed rapidly on the Timmelsjoch as Thalman pushed ahead as the gradient steepened and the Howson group drew ever nearer.

With 40kilometres to go Thalman was caught and passed by the heavily reduced chasing group and Howson now setting the pace.

CCC-Sprandi-Polkowice split the group with 30kilometres remaining with Kreuziger and Power both following the attack of the Polish team before Kreuziger put the hammer down.

Leading solo as he crested the climb Kreuziger flew into the descent followed by Simon Spilak (Katusha-Alpecin) some 20seconds behind.

Flying down the descent the former Czech champion increased his advantage and powered away for a strong victory.

OTZTALER Pro 5500 results:

1. Roman Kreuziger (ORICA-SCOTT) 06:37:34
2. Simon Spilak (Katusha-Alpecin) +0:43
3. Giulio Ciccone (Bardiani-CSF) +1:33