Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) edged out Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) to win the second stage of the 2014 Tour Down Under, as the Australian extended his overall lead in Stirling.
Gerrans looked set for a second consecutive stage win, after out-sprinting Andre Greipel in Tuesday’s first stage, but Ulissi proved too fast as he boosted his own GC hopes.
A three-man break stuck early in the day, with stage one’s most aggressive rider, Will Clarke (Drapac), who won stage two of the 2012 edition with a daylong solo effort, once again among them.
Boy van Poppel (Trek Factory Racing) and Campbell Flakemore (UniSA-Australia) joined Clarke as the trio built a steady advantage.
Clarke contested both classified climbs against compatriot Flakemore – edging them on both occasions – but Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol, racing in the green polka-dot jersey of mountains king, kicked from the bunch to maintain his overall lead.
The three maintained a lead around the 2’30” mark, with the peloton content to set a steady average speed of 38km/h through the first part of the stage.
Unlike two years ago though, the escape never looked like succeeding and as the climbers took charge on the undulating finishing circuit the break was soon reeled back in.
Flakemore, the youngest of the three escapees, was the first to sit up and Clarke and van Poppel were caught on the final lap.
Orica-GreenEDGE had driven the bunch for much of the day, with Lotto-Belisol also sharing the workload implying a potential sprint finish for Andre Greipel.
The Gorilla remained in the leading group too, but an ill-timed puncture ruled him out of contention for the stage and also saw Adam Hansen sacrifice his own stage ambitions to support him.
Ian Stannard (Team Sky) and Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp) were among the riders to mount attacks on the final circuit but all were countered to set-up a sprint finish with all of the GC contenders present.
When Daryl Impey dropped off his ochre jersey-clad team-mate in pole position it looked set up for another Gerrans victory.
Ulissi had other ideas however, storming down the other side of the road to burst through and win with enough time to salute his victory as he crossed the finish line.
Gerrans held on to beat veteran compatriot Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) into third and maintain his overall lead having scooped valuable bonus seconds.
Evans remains well-placed in fourth overall however, with fellow GC contenders Francesco Gavazzi (Astana) and Robert Gesink (Belkin) rounding off the top five in Stirling.
Richie Porte, meanwhile, finished sixth, just missing out on recording Team Sky’s first WorldTour point of the season.
It leaves Gerrans with a seven-second lead over Ulissi ahead of tomorrow’s third stage, which concludes with a fast downhill finish into Campbelltown.
Tour Down Under 2014: stage two – photo gallery
1) Diego Ulissi (ITA) – Lampre-Merida in 3:52:14hrs
2) Simon Gerrans (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE same time
3) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing
4) Francesco Gavazzi (ITA) – Astana
5) Robert Gesink (NED) – Belkin
6) Richie Porte (AUS) – Team Sky
7) Ben Hermans (BEL) – BMC Racing
8) Fabio Felline (ITA) – Trek Factory Racing
9) Javier Moreno (ESP) – Movistar
10) Daryl Impey (RSA) – Orica-GreenEDGE
1) Simon Gerrans (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE in 7:12:31hrs
2) Diego Ulissi (ITA) – Lampre-Merida +7”
3) Andre Greipel (GER) – Lotto-Belisol +11”
4) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +13”
5) Steele von Hoff (AUS) – Garmin-Sharp
6) Simon Geschke (GER) – Giant-Shimano +16”
7) Francesco Gavazzi (ITA) – Astana +17”
8) Robert Gesink (NED) – Belkin
9) Maxime Bouet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
10) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky