Gerrans Sprints to Stage 1 Victory in Tour Down Under 2014
Gerrans, who won the Australian national championship a little over a week ago, has given his GreenEDGE team more reason to celebrate with today's stage victory ahead of German sprint ace André Greipel (Team Lotto-Belisol) of Germany and Australian Steele Von Hoff of Team Garmin-Sharp-Castelli, who was third to cross the finish line closely behind Gerrans.
"I guess I’ve surprised a few, myself included," Gerrans commented after being celebrated on the podium. "Obviously André (Greipel) is one of the fastest sprinters around."
"I didn’t imagine I’d be able to come past Greipel until the very end," Gerrans told RoadCycling.com. "But in the final two kilometers all of the Lotto guys were looking tired and had been working hard and I thought maybe Greipel wouldn’t be able to do his normal sprint. So I took his wheel in the sprint, and it was only in the last 100 meters that I felt confident I would be able to come past him."
"It was a tough finale and everyone was tired. I had to sprint really late because of the head wind (and) looking towards the end of the week, it might have been better if André had had the lead but we’ve seen in the past few years that this race is won or lost by seconds, so you have to take every opportunity. Every second counts," Gerrans, who won the Santos Tour Down Under in 2006 and 2012, continued.
"I hope it’s not too early to hold the jersey but we have a fantastic squad here, so I’m optimistic for keeping the lead till the end."
Gerrans crossed the finish line in a time of 03:20:34 and his strong performance in today's stage has put him into the leader's jersey. Considering the time bonuses he collected today, he now has an overall race lead of five seconds on Greipel with Von Hoff third at seven seconds.
The 135 kilometer stage began in the town of Nuriootpa and wound it's way through the Barossa winegrowing region to the nearby town of Angaston. The stage had been in doubt due to a bushfire at Eden Valley, 18 kilometer south of Angaston that had been burning since Friday, but after getting the all clear from the Country Fire Service and South Australian Police the 138 world class cyclists lined up to kick off the 2014 WorldTour.
Today's stage took the riders through scenic vineyards for two circuits before being led onto Menglers Hill by Team Sky for the category 1 climb that tested the legs of the peloton.
The main contenders stayed in touch up the climb before Australian Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) attacked close to the top to score the major points for the day and in the process grabbed the lead in the Skoda King of the Mountain classification. Second over the line was Frenchman Axel Domont followed by Laurent Didier (Trek Factory Racing).
"Garmin-Sharp and Sky were pulling in the climb but I was in a very good position, so I decided to have a go and see what happened," said Hansen who is a key workhorse for teammate Greipel. "It’s a nice jersey to have but I don’t think I’ll fight to defend it. Our main goal remains to win a stage and I’ll work for that as a priority."
Hansen was reeled in soon after before Japanese rider Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar) and team mate Bjorn Thurau from Germany broke away. But despite a second surge from Thurau and a bid by Australian Rory Sutherland (Tinkoff-Saxo) to escape the sprinter's trains brought it back together to set up a bunch sprint.
All bets were on Greipel, a prolific stage winner and 2008 and 2010 overall winner of the Santos Tour Down Under, but after the stage he admitted today's course wasn't suited to his style of sprinting.
"It was a perfect finish for Gerro (Gerrans) today," said Greipel. "The gearing was just too hard for me today."
"It wasn't a bunch sprint today, it was very hard today, and I am no climber. I tried to go up as fast as possible, so it's a good sign that the condition is there but the headwind played against us today," Greipel explained.
Third place finisher Von Hoff was happy to finish in the top 3. "We had really good teamwork today," said Von Hoff of his Garmin-Sharp line up. "They rode for me all day. The sprint was very hard. I didn't quite have the legs to come around Gerro (Gerrans).
"The legs are going well, so we're hoping for a good week," he said. "Third is not bad. It shows I'm in good condition."
Early in the stage two riders broke way and forged a lead of more than three minutes. Drapac's Will Clarke won the first of the intermediate sprints in Bethany at 26 kilometer while his breakaway companion Neil van der Ploeg of the UniSA-Australia team was second. German Simon Geschke of Team Giant-Shimano led the main field across the line for third.
At the second intermediate sprint, also at Bethany, 72km into the stage it was van der Ploeg who crossed ahead of Clarke while Gerrans grabbed a one second time bonus for third place.
Clarke was named the Europcar Most Competitive rider of the day for his efforts in the early breakaway.
"The team’s plan was to have one of us in the breakaway. The first attempt worked, which is not really that common," said Clarke. "It was me and Neil Van der Ploeg. It was nice to be up there. But they worked pretty well together in the peloton. They never let us go far. I was hoping for a lead of six or seven minutes but we didn’t even reached four minutes.
"Possibly some teams remembered that I won in Stirling two years ago surviving such a breakaway."
Spain was also represented today with Carlos Verona taking the lead in the Cycle Instead Young Rider category. The Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider is ranked 15th overall at 15 seconds.
"In the last climb, we were going to prepare the finale for Matteo Trentin but the climb was too difficult for him," Verona explained. "Jan Bakelants, Julian Alaphilippe and I made the front group. I was working for Bakelants but I found myself ahead of him and I finished seventh, which gives me the best young rider jersey.
"I’m happy about that but our goal remains to ride GC (overall) for Bakelants," said Verona. "If I can remain the best young rider, it would be a bonus."
Tomorrow the 2014 Tour Down Under continues with stage 2 - a 150 kilometer route from Prospect, through the Adelaide Hills to the finish line in Stirling.