Tour Down Under 2014: Simon Gerrans sprints to early lead

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Tour Down Under 2014: Simon Gerrans sprints to early lead

Australian champion beats Andre Greipel to take first ochre jersey

Australian champion Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) outsprinted Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) on the uphill finish into Angaston to win the first stage of the Tour Down Under.

Gerrans, who won the race in 2012, will wear the ochre jersey on stage two after continuing his fine start to the year with victory on the opening day of the 2014 UCI WorldTour season.

The former Team Sky man had already kicked off his campaign with victory in the Australian national road race, and after picking up a ten-second time bonus for finishing first – and a further one second at an intermediate sprint – the 33-year-old holds an 11-second advantage overall over his main GC rivals.

Simon Gerrans, in the Australian champion’s jersey, celebrates his victory (Pic: Sirotti)

“I didn’t imagine I’d be able to come past Greipel until the very end,” said Gerrans.

“But in the final two kilometres 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 metres that I felt confident I would be able to come past him.

“Taking the jersey so early on has put a heck of a lot of pressure on the whole team here.

“Already, leading in to the race, everyone knew that we were really keen to win here and I’m obviously coming off the back of the Australian championships in good shape, and now I’ve probably just confirmed that for everybody.

“So we’ve got a big task in front of us to defend the jersey from here on.”

Earlier in the day home riders Will Clarke (Drapac) and Neil van der Ploeg (UniSA-Australia) attacked almost from the flag to form the day’s break, with their lead stretching to close to four minutes.

The peloton, with Orica-GreenEDGE and Team Sky putting men at the front, kept them at a manageable distance to ensure there would be no repeat of Clarke’s successful day-long attack in 2012.

Gerrans salutes the crowd after bagging the ochre jersey at the first time of asking (Pic: Sirotti)

Sky were riding without Chris Sutton after the Australian was forced to withdraw with a broken wrist – suffered after he was caught in a crash during the People’s Choice Classic – and Nathan Earle was drafted in as a late replacement.

Clarke and van der Ploeg shared the intermediate time bonuses between them, while further back Gerrans gave the first indication of his ambitions by kicking off the front of the bunch to take a one-second bonus of his own.

Van der Ploeg was the first of the two escapees to be swallowed up by the peloton but Clarke kicked again to stay clear for several more kilometres – enough to earn him the aggressive rider jersey.

When he too was caught by the bunch, it prompted a frantic upping of the pace with Frank Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) being momentarily caught up in a crash.

Sky led the bunch up the early part of Menglars Hill but Garmin-Sharp’s Nathan Haas was the first to make a move, moving to the front and causing a split to form in the peloton.

Sprinters Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano), Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida), Mark Renshaw (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE) were among the riders dropped.

Greipel, however, remained in the leading group, with team-mate Adam Hansen leading over the summit to take the race’s first green polka dot jersey.

Europcar’s Bjorn Thurau and Yukiya Arashiro – in their team’s first race since being granted a WorldTour license – then attacked the leading group and built a small lead.

Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Bernhard Eisel (Team Sky) pulled huge shifts on the front of the bunch (Pic: Sirotti)

Thurau led under the one kilometre to go kite, but the pace of the peloton proved too much on the uphill finish.

A further crash then took down several more riders, including Belkin’s David Tanner, who is believed to have broken a collarbone.

Rory Sutherland (Tinkoff-Saxo) then attacked off the front in the final stages, but was unable to escape.

With all eyes on Greipel, the two-time Tour Down Under winner appeared set for yet another stage win, but Gerrans had other ideas.

Benefitting from a perfect lead-out by Daryl Impey, Gerrans delayed his kick to perfection into the headwind, sitting on Greipel’s wheel before coming round the giant German to draw first blood in the race for GC honours.

Orica-GreenEDGE chief Matt White added: “It was a bigger group than I expected to make it to the finish today.

“I didn’t think Greipel would get there – he was the only pure sprinter who really made it. Most people wouldn’t bet on Gerro taking out Greipel in a sprint, but it was a hard run in to the line.

“It was quite deceptive and a real grind of a sprint. Gerro got there fresher than Andre, and he was dropped off very, very well by Impey and Matthews. If the right circumstances come about, Simon is very hard to beat.”

Steele von Hoff (Garmin-Sharp) crossed in third, with GC contenders Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Robert Gesink (Belkin) and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) finishing in the same time.

But a small split in the leading group means Richie Porte (Team Sky), Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp) and Javier Moreno (Movistar) all lost four seconds.

Gerrans will now trade his Australian champion’s jersey for the ochre jersey of race leader when the race resumes on Wednesday in Prospect.

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Tour Down Under 2014: stage one – result

1) Simon Gerrans (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE in 3:20:34hrs
2) Andre Greipel (GER) – Lotto-Belisol – same time
3) Steele von Hoff (AUS) – Garmin-Sharp
4) Diego Ulissi (ITA) – Lampre-Merida
5) Maxime Bouet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
6) Francesco Gavazzi (ITA) – Astana
7) Simon Geschke (GER) – Giant-Shimano
8) Rafael Valls (ESP) – Lampre-Merida
9) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing
10) Robert Gesink (NED) – Belkin

General classification

1) Simon Gerrans (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE in 3:20:23hrs
2) Andre Greipel (GER) – Lotto-Belisol +5”
3) Steele von Hoff (AUS) – Garmin-Sharp +7”
4) Simon Geschke (GER) – Giant-Shimano +10”
5) Diego Ulissi (ITA) – Lampre-Merida +11”
6) Maxime Bouet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale – same time
7) Francesco Gavazzi (ITA) – Astana
8) Rafael Valls (ESP) – Lampre-Merida
9) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing
10) Robert Gesink (NED) – Belkin
Others
11) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky – same time

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