Gerrans Wins Tour Down Under 2014; Greipel Wins Final Stage
Gerrans finished on the same time as stage winner André Greipel (Germany/Lotto-Belisol) who beat Mark Renshaw (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Renshaw's teammate Andrew Fenn (Great Britain) in the stage 6 sprint across the finish line.
"I’ve got my third Tour Down Under win thanks to an outstanding team," said Gerrans. "This is an Australian team, on Australia Day, in a WorldTour event, what else could I ask for?"
Gerrans took the crown by a hard earned one second margin from 2011 Tour de France champion and compatriot, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) after wrenching it from his shoulders in yesterday's hilltop finish at Willunga. Italian Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) was a further four seconds back in third place overall.
Gerrans, the Australian road race champion, signalled his intention to go for a third Tour win when he won the San Remo Pasta Stage 1 sprint into Angaston.
"It’s been a hard race for me and my team-mates," said Gerrans who lost the lead to Evans who won Thursday's Thomas Foods Stage 3 into Stirling. "It’s been difficult to get the Ochre jersey back, what a tough week!
"I had the experience from two years ago of defending the lead with a very small margin (same time as Alejandro Valverde)," he explained. "I was confident in my team-mates to take me home safely, which they did today. Until I crossed the line, I suspected that Diego Ulissi would try and do something, but it went all right."
Evans was philisophical about his result.
"This race is fantastic, the fans really make this race and this ambiance, I am so pleased, so proud of us as a cycling nation," he said. "I took my best judgement on the road (so) I have to be satisfied with how it went.
"We prefer to win, that's what we're hard-wired to win," said Evans. "(But) to lose by 1 second shows that we're (BMC Racing Team) in a good way."
But today wasn't an all Aussie celebration because German sprint sensation Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) scorched home at top speed to win his 16th Santos Tour Down Under stage.
"Chapeau to my team-mates, they rode incredibly fast so I could save myself for the last moment," said Greipel. "This is a very nice victory for us, I had fast legs today and I’m confident in my capacities these days.
"It was difficult to keep the peloton together but everyone knew where we’d start the lead out. This new circuit is really fast but we have enough experience in the team to adjust ourselves to a new course. I’m really happy to come out of the Santos Tour Down Under as a winner again."
Close behind in second place was Australian Mark Renshaw (Omega Pharma - QuickStep) with his team mate Andrew Fenn (GBR) third on the stage.
"There was a long, straight headwind section," said Greipel's team mate Marcel Sieberg. "We lost Adam Hansen with a puncture with about three kilometres to go so we had to wait a little more.
"It was perfect for us today and we take confidence, it's a WorldTour race, when we are good here, we know we can be good in Europe."
The Adelaide City circuit for the Be Safe Be Seen, MAC Stage 6 took the riders over 18 laps of a new 4.7 kilometre ciruit around Rymill Park, out through the CBD to Victoria Square and back. Sweeping past some of Adelaide's key landmarks it provided a fitting finale to a week of first class action that attracted 766 thousand fans.
Team GreenEdge sports director, Matthew White, says the Santos Tour Down Under crown is a special win for the team.
"It's the only WorldTour race on home soil so to come away with the win, and the team classification, it's a brilliant way to start the season," said White. "It's only the start of the season. We have a lot of big goals coming up."
The victory puts Gerrans, on 114 points, in the lead on the individual WordlTour rankings ahead of Evans on 88 points with Ulissi third on 83 ponts.
"It’s been a difficult stage for me with the heat (33C), the tension of riding for GC (overall), some dangerous riders in the bunch… It’s normal because we were just a few seconds apart but I managed to remain close to the front with my team," said Ulissi. "Third in the Santos Tour Down Under is a better result than I expected before coming here. I’m delighted"
As expected on the final stage of the Santos Tour Down Under an early break rode clear. Team Europcar's Angelo Tulik had tried an earlier escape but crashed on a corner and ended up back in the bunch. Russian Maxim Belkov (Katusha) crashed over the top of him but jumped back on his bike and continued the attack along with Australia's perennial escapee William Clarke (Drapac). Frenchman Julien Bérard (AG2R La Mondiale), joined them soon after and the trio opened up a lead of more than a minute.
It was bad luck for Clarke when he punctured midway through the sixth lap which meant he missed out on the chance to grab the maximum point s in the first of two Adam Internet intermediate sprints of the day at 28.5 kilometres. Instead it was Bérard who claimed the win ahead of Belkov with Clarke 19 seconds behind as he chased to rejoin the lead. The peloton followed 1:47 later.
The second intermediate sprint came at the end of the twelfth lap, 30 kilometres from the finish and this time it was Belkov who picked up the top points ahead of Bérard and Clarke. By now the gap was closing with the bunch just 1:21 behind. Team GreenEdge rode tempo on the front in control of the bunch.
Trek Factory Racing took over the chase on lap 14 before, as expected, the teams of the big name sprinters came to the fore. The responsibility was that of Lotto-Belisol for Greipel and Giant-Shimano for Marcel Kittel but several other opportunists also had hopes of a final stage win.
Greipel was positioned perfectly but not so Kittel whose team mate's lost him in the peloton traffic.
"I am not sure what happened. I could not find Marcel Kittel in the end," said his team mate Koen de Kort who was fourth on the line. "He was on my wheel, it was a very hectic course, tight corners, long straights. Somewhere in the last lap, Marcel must have lost my wheel.
"I told me teammates to go find him, while I stayed in the front (but) he never got there. At about 600m to go, I heard through the radio, Koen, just sprint yourself.
"I don't sprint enough. I choose the wrong side of the wheel, then I had to restart again. I came through fourth. I don't have the experience in sprinting these days. I don't tend to do that anymore."
No climbs were contested today which means Australian Adam Hansen goes home with the Skoda King of the Mountain crown after amassing 28 points, including a win in the first category one climb of the race up Menglers Hill in the Barossa on Tuesday. That win ensured him overall climbing honours on a countback from Frenchman Axel Domont (AG2R - La Mondiale) who also finished on 28 points.
In the "Cycle Instead" Young Rider competition talented 20 year old Jack Haig claimed the honours. The 2013 under 23 Australian mountain bike champion made an impression especially in the climbing stages to finish 17th overall, 2:08 off Gerrans lead, and the top ranked under 23 year old. He was 1:09 clear of his nearest rival Carlos Verona from Spain (Omega Pharma - QuickStep).
"I definitely didn’t expect to ride the last stage of my first WorldTour race with the white jersey on my shoulders," said Haig. "I had enough time on Carlos (Verona) to not necessarily worry about it. I had a decent buffer.
"Had I been told one week ago that I’d be sitting in this winners’ room with these people who are among the world’s best cyclists, I wouldn’t have believed it. It’s amazing!" said Haig who hoped to gain Commonwealth Games selection for mountain bike. "I’ll become a full time road rider after that and I hope to join a professional team next year."