Bettiol shines through rain for Tour win

Alberto Bettiol has ridden his excellent luck with the weather to win the historic prologue time trial at the Tour Down Under.

The EF Education rider from Italy, who won the 2019 Tour of Flanders, takes a handy eight-second overall lead into Wednesday's first road stage.

After Bettiol and the other first few riders had dry conditions, the rain came and that dramatically affected the stage.

Bettiol had asked his team boss if he could be among the early starters, but the initial thought was that would be to advise teammates on how best to tackle the course.

As it turned out, it proved a winning move.

"There are plenty of better riders, especially in such a short prologue," he told Channel Seven.

"But Australia helped me, the weather really helped me.

"I'm still surprised, I'm really happy."

The race returned as a World Tour event for the first time since 2020, after the last two years were put on hold because of COVID-19.

It is also the first time the Santos tour has featured a time trial stage since the race started in 2019.

Bettiol, 29, was the fourth of the 139 riders to start the Tuesday twilight time trial on a technical 5.5km course along the Adelaide Riverbank.

He posted six minutes 19.73 seconds and then sat in the hot seat for the next two hours at the finish as other riders tried in vain to better his time.

Several riders fell on a tricky section of the course near the finish once the rain came, although none appeared badly hurt.

Time trial specialists such as Australians Rohan Dennis and Luke Plapp clearly did not post their best-possible times as they navigated the greasy conditions.

While the rain stopped and the conditions dried out, meaning better conditions for the last dozen or so starters, no-one could better Bettiol's time.

Young British rider Magnus Sheffield was outstanding, posting the second-fastest time despite riding when the course was still wet, and the Ineos Grenadiers cyclist finished only 8.04 seconds slower for second place.

Australian star Michael Matthews (Jayco-AlUla), who was aiming to win the prologue, also impressed in the wet and was 10th, 14 seconds off Bettiol's pace.

Given eight of the 22 editions of the tour have been decided by three seconds or less, Bettiol's lead could already be decisive.

But all he wanted to do was relish Tuesday's unlikely win.

"For the moment, I will enjoy this (leader's) jersey because I like this race and I will be really proud to wear the jersey," he said.

"Then we will see - it's still a long week ... the real race starts tomorrow."

Wednesday's first road stage is a 149.9km race that starts and finishes at Tanunda in the Barossa Valley, north of Adelaide.