Two-time former champion Simon Gerrans signalled his intentions early at the Santos Tour Down Under, taking a dominant sprint win and the Ochre leader’s jersey on stage one into Angaston. Gerrans narrowly edged out André Greipel (Lotto Belisol) and Steele von Hoff (Garmin-Sharp), from a 40-man bunch reduced by the challenging Menglers Hill that came with 12 kilometres to go.
“It was a bigger group than I expected to make it to the finish today,” said Sport Director Matt White. “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.
Gerrans continues his dream start to the season, taking his first WorldTour victory of 2014 just one week after he took the Australian National Road Race Championship in Buninyong, and admitted to being surprised to take the sprint win over Greipel.
“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.”
Earlier in the 135 kilometre stage through the Barossa, Gerrans made his overall ambitions clear by targeting time bonuses in the intermediate sprint. He took a one second bonus for third place, with Will Clarke (Drapac) and Neil van der Ploeg (UniSA) scooping up the major sprint points from the break.
“Two years ago, we won on a count-back here,” continued White. “Seconds matter, and even those little time bonuses make a big difference to the overall at the end of the week. So if we take time bonuses when we can, it all adds up, and we’re obviously off to a great start already.”
Gerrans is a two-time winner of this event. In his first overall victory, he took out the first stage and wore the leader’s jersey from start to finish of the six day-long stage race. Despite the added pressure on the team to defend the jersey, White remains confident in Gerrans’s ability to take out the overall.
“We assumed a degree of responsibility to ride and control today, even though no one had the jersey yet,” said White. “It’s a short tour and we’ve come here with a team of guys that can control the race until the end.”
Gerrans echoed those sentiments, reiterating that the strong team around him has come prepared to race hard for the overall and will now face a tough week defending the lead.
“Taking the jersey so early on has put a heck of a lot of pressure on the whole team here,” said Gerrans. “Already leading into 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.”
With ORICA-GreenEDGE playing a predicably large part in the way the race unfolded today, Gerrans thanked his teammates for their work in delivering him to the line.
“The guys worked really well for me today,” confirmed Gerrans. “Everybody knew what their roles were throughout the stage and it’s really nice to finish it off when everyone has done their job perfectly. Durbo did a fantastic job riding the front, Matty Hayman looked after me the entire stage and then having Bling [Michael Matthews], Daryl and Clarkey there to take me into the final 200 metres was brilliant, so my win today was just finishing off some fantastic teamwork and I’m really pleased.”