Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) celebrated Australia Day in fine style by winning the Queen stage of the 2013 Tour Down Under.
The defending champion sealed victory at the top of Old Willunga Hill, where twelve months previously he had lost out by the narrowest of margins to Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
This year saw a similar finish, but Gerrans was able to hold off the challenge of his closest rival, Tom Jelte Slagter (Blanco), the winner of stage three, and the new leader of the race after a tiring Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) was unable to finish the stage higher than fifth.
Slagter said: “It’s an incredible feeling! I have never won a pro race before and I have a stage here this week, second today with the jersey and I have enough of a lead to believe that I can my win the first World Tour race of the year tomorrow. It comes from such great team work. I’m really proud to show this team to the world. It looks like the real beginning of my career even though the season is long.”
Gerrans, who last year also won the ‘monument’ Classic, Milan-San Remo, arguably the greatest win of his career, will not feature in the battle for overall victory at this year’s Tour Down Under after a slow start to his title defence, but will have delighted millions of his countrymen with a characteristically gutsy win after two ascents of a 3km climb with an average gradient of 7.6 per cent.
Team Sky’s challenge is likely to have foundered too, with Slagter now 29 seconds ahead of Thomas with one final, flat stage remaining. The British team deployed their trademark control as far as the foot of Old Willunga Hill, before Edvald Boasson Hagen took over pacing duties for Thomas.
The Welshman, however, faded in the final kilometres, and later told Sky Sports that he had tired with 500 metres to go.
“The boys did a great ride and then Edvald did a good turn at the end,” he said.
“I should have just swung over maybe and got someone else to work but I ended up pulling for a bit and I was a bit empty after that. Gerrans came past a bit too fast for me to get on his wheel and I went backwards from there.
“Immediately afterwards you’re pretty gutted you didn’t get the win but when we get back tonight we’ll see that we’ve got a lot of positives to take from this. It’s the first race of the year and it’s been a good week and a good start to the year.”
Tomorrow’s final stage features a 90km criterium race around the streets of south Adelaide and will surely be of interest to Andre Greipel and his Lotto-Belisol sprint train, who will seek a third victory in this year’s race.
Santos Tour Down Under 2013 – stage five – result
1) Simon Gerrans (AUS) – Orica GreenEdge – 3.36.25
2) Tom Jelte Slagter (NED) – Blanco – ST
3) Javier Moreno Bazan (SPA) – Movistar +10”
4) Ion Izagirre (SPA) – Euskaltel-Euskadi +12”
5) Tiago Machado (POR) – Radioshack-Leopard-Trek +13”
6) Wilco Kelderman (NED) – Blanco +16”
7) Gorka Izagirre (SPA) – Euskaltel-Euskadi – ST
8) Rafael Valls Ferri (SPA) – Vacansoleil-DCM -ST
9) Daniele Pietropolli (ITA) – Lampre-Merida -ST
10) Ben Hermans (BEL) – Radioshack-Leopard -ST
1) Tom Jelte Slagter (NED) Blanco Pro Cycling – 16.35.33
2) Javier Moreno Bazan (SPA) – Movistar +13”
3) Ben Hermans (BEL) – Radioshack-Leopard +25”
4) Ion Izagirre (SPA) – Euskaltel-Euskadi +28”
5) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky +29”
6) Tiago Machado (POR) – Radioshack-Leopard
7) Gorka Izagirre (SPA) – Euskaltel-Euskadi +32”
8) Daniele Pietropolli (ITA) – Lampre-Merida -ST
9) Wilco Kelderman (NED) – Blanco Pro Cycling – ST
10) Jussi Veikkanen (FIN) – FDJ – ST