The opening race of the 2014 WorldTour was won by Simon Gerrans. The recently crowned Australian champion was the protected rider for Orica-GreenEdge on a day when the main obstacle was Mengler’s Hill, with the top around 11km from the finish of the Tour Down Under’s opening stage in Angaston. Time bonuses, the team said at the start, are likely to once again be a deciding factor for who wins the race outright and so Gerrans had the responsibility of sprinting… and he duly delivered – yet again!
First place for Gerrans means he’ll swap his green-and-gold national champion’s jersey for the ochre race leader’s jersey. The two-time Tour Down Under champion beat André Greipel and Steele von Hoff at the finish, gaining a 10-second bonus for his efforts. Gerrans also picked up third place in the second intermediate sprint to steal another one-second in the general classification.
Click the image of Gerrans (below) for a gallery of images of the stage from Nuriootpa to Angaston.
“We surprised a few today, myself included,” said Simon Gerrans after the finish. “Obviously André is one of the fastest guys going around, so I’m pretty pleased to be able to get over him on the line. But it was a tough final. Everyone was pretty tired coming into the finish so I thought that might have taken the sting out of his legs just a little bit and I left my sprint really late; it was also a headwind so I was just able to get by him.”
One of the riders who did dare to try and upset the momentum of the sprinters’ teams was Rory Sutherland. His attack was nullified in the final kilometre but he was pleased with his effort. “We came out and looked at this stage a couple of days ago,” said the Tinkoff-Saxo rider. “When we saw the finish I thought, ‘If it’s a smaller group or if there are sprinters still there, then you have to go early…’ you have to try something – I can’t sprint against those guys. I may be alright in this kind of finish but I was never going to come in the top four. Matthews, Greipel, Roelandts, ‘Gerro’… I mean, what are you going to do? I had to try something and what I did seemed like a good idea at the time. I’ve done it a few times… and it’s never worked yet. But one day it will!”
Third place finisher Steele von Hoff was pleased with his efforts but now he admits he’ll switch from sprint hopeful to domestique for Garmin-Sharp’s GC rider, Rohan Dennis. “This is the one that I targeted,” said von Hoff. “I looked at the profile and I liked this one, so I’ve given it my best and now I’ll just help Rohan and if anything else happens and someone else gets up on GC, I’ll start committing to them [but] Victor Harbor will be another [stage] that I’ll try and get up in.”
A late replacement for an injured team-mate, Nathan Earle was one of the riders tapping out tempo at the front as the peloton ascended Mengler’s Hill. After the stage, we asked: so, get on the plane, get in the peloton, go to the front on the hill… that’s the policy is it?
“Ah, I wasn’t quite on the front,” he replied. “I was on Nathan Haas’ wheel and it was hurting a fair bit. I was just tapping away and then I thought I’ll let everyone go with 200m to go and then chase back on. I got dropped over the top and then just managed to get back on towards the end.
“It was a good first stage in the WorldTour for me; I’m just learning off the guys. I was happy with how it went.”
What about yesterday – what was Earle doing when he heard the news? “Luckily, I knew not to go training until I found out what was going on [with CJ Sutton] and I found out at about midday so then just went out for a light ride, then packed my bike and got myself to the airport. I got to Adelaide at about eight o’clock last night. It was not ideal but it wasn’t terrible either. I should be feeling a bit better tomorrow.”