TDU: Valverde take stage victory and Gerrans overall lead

Spaniard Alejandro Valverde has won the Queen stage of the Santos Tour Down Under edging out Australian road champion, Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE) whose second place atop Old Willunga Hill has put him into the race lead.

Valverde (Movistar) stopped the clock at 3:45:48, half a wheel ahead of Gerrans as the pair both lunged for the line at the end of the Tour’s first ever hill top finish. Third across the line, two seconds back, was Tiago Machado (RadioShack-Nissan) with Canberra’s Michael Rogers (Sky) a further two seconds back in fourth place.

“I’m super happy, I can’t believe it,” said Valverde. “My team has been genius, I’ve won thanks to them. It’s an emotional moment for me.

“The stage suited me. We’ve put the team at the front and it’s a perfect comeback for me.”

After the bonus seconds were allocated Valverde and Gerrans were equal on time at the top of the standings but a countback of previous stage placings put Gerrans in the Santos Tour Down Under ochre race leader’s jersey to the delight of GreenEDGE team owner Gerry Ryan, fans and team officials in South Australia to celebrate the debut of the first Australian registered team to race the WorldTour.

“I’m rapt to have the lead going into the last stage. It’s such a big deal for GreenEDGE to take the lead into the last stage in their first WorldTour outing so I’m thrilled and really rapt with the whole team’s performance, they have really supported me all week so I really can’t thank the guys enough.”

Gerrans’ team mate and local legend, Stuart O’Grady, who was named Hindmarsh Most Aggressive rider of the day, was overwhelmed by the atmosphere and support from the crowd of 120,000.

“It was seriously like an end of the Tour de France stage. Look at all the people, the stadium, the finish. I would never have dreamed a bike race to be as big in Australia, let alone Adelaide and the people have been absolutely fantastic,” said O’Grady. “Coming up the hill today, it was like the tour.”

O’Grady was one of six riders in the only serious breakaway of the day that established early in the 151km race that covered three laps from McLaren Vale, through Willunga and out to Aldinga Beach before the final two loops took the race up Old Willunga Hill. Joining O’Grady was Briton Andrew Fenn (Omega Pharma – Lotto), Belgians Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), and Kristof Goddaert (AG2R La Mondiale), Tasmanian Nathan Haas (Garmin-Barracuda) and the Tour’s first Japanese entrant Takashi Miyazawa (Saxo Bank).

They contested both Jayco intermediate sprints with Goddaert winning the first sprint at Snapper Point (63.4km) and De Gendt the second at 103.4km.

But while the break rode out to a substantial lead early, the teams of the climbers had no intention of letting them stay away. Halfway up Old Willunga Hill for the first SKODA King of the Mountain they were all caught except for Haas who soloed over the top for the points.

“I thought my team mates are in that group so I thought moving out in front just gave them a sit on, and it would put some pressure on the legs of the other teams and I did that but unfortunately two of our riders got dropped and in the end it was only Jack Bauer,” said Haas who was caught on the descent. “It was inevitable …I knew that I didn’t have the legs to make up the climb the second time.”

As the front of the race regrouped the pace stayed high heading through Willunga for the last time with several attacks being launched. But in the end it was a select group of eight who challenged over the final 200 metres for a place on gthe podium.

UniSA-Australia’s Rohan Dennis, who recently claimed both the under 23 time trial and road race national titles, was in super form today and went all out to hold onto his lead in the SKODA King of the Mountain classification. He was third over the climb the first time and fifth on the stage to end the day with 29 points, five clear of De Gendt and Gerrans.

“The only way to do it is to put yourself in the race. I’m a little bit stuffed now but its all worth it in the end. I guess sometimes you need a little bit of form as well to have that confidence to actually go up the front but sometimes it’s just sort of a gut feeling, just sort of hope for the best,” said Dennis who is racing against some of his boyhood idols. “It’s always a bit of a worry because I know how good they actually are. I’m hoping they’re feeling or hurting as much as what I am. I just need to keep sort of positive when your at the front and you just think they’re hurting as much as you, really just stay as positive as possible.”

Dennis is also the top ranked in the Cycle Instead Young Rider (aged under 26) classification sitting five seconds ahead of Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) on the overall rankings and team manager Dave Sanders is thrilled with the way the composite national team has performed this week.

“I’m very proud of these kids [for holding onto the mountain jersey], I mean these are the best riders in the world, I just got them to believe not to be afraid of them, to race them,” said Sanders. “You’ll either get there or you won’t but you can’t (win) if you don’t have a go.”

Boasson Hagen is leading the Jayco Sprint classification on 46 points, 11 clear of two stage winner and previous race leader, Andre Greipel and hopes to hold onto that jersey and move a little higher up the standings from his current place of sixth at 18 seconds.

“My team did a great job and I managed to get up the climb first time so I felt really good,” said Boasson Hagen “(The second time) was really hard for me, so we managed to get over the top, so I’m so happy and the team did a great job today I thought.”

His team mate Rogers is sitting in fourth place overall at 14 seconds after an exhausting effort.

“The whole hill was pretty tough and there was strong head wind. The goal was to get everything out and scrape the bottom of barrel and I did that and I’m really happy,” said Rogers. “I jumped with 400 metres to go and Valverde and Gerrans got on my wheel and went when I blew. But I am really happy and it’s been a long time since I have been able to scrape the bottom of the barrel. It’s a win for myself and I am really happy.”

The leading team in the Brilliant Blend Team competition is RadioShack-Nissan-Trek who have a 24 seconds buffer over Sky ProCycling.

Sunday’s final stage will be contested over 20 laps of a street circuit at Elder Park on the banks of the Torrens River north of the Adelaide CBD. The 90 kilometre finale is set to be a corker with time bonuses up for grabs at the two Jayco intermediate sprints and on the stage finish and several riders in striking distance of the win.

Photo: Santos Tour Down Under / Regallo

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