Victorian Simon Gerrans has sealed a fairytale debut for the fledgling GreenEDGE Australian professional cycling team by claiming overall victory in the 2012 Santos Tour Down Under. Gerrans joins team mate and local hero Stuart O’Grady and today’s stage winner German Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) as the third rider in the event’s 14 year history to win the trophy twice.
Sunday’s final stage was raced 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 set off with the air temperature at 37 degrees celsius but the heat from road made racing conditions much hotter.
31 year old Gerrans went into the stage tied on time with Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) but as race leader because of a lower total when the pair’s places on previous stages were tallied. There was also a handful of other riders hoping to improve their positions. But GreenEDGE were up to the challenge and vigilant throughout the stage making sure they covered every move.
“When I was told yesterday that I was getting the leader’s jersey, I didn’t feel any pressure at all, it was just a nice surprise. I knew it would give us a tough job for this last stage, but as it turns out, I can’t be happier,” said Gerran who two weeks ago won the elite men’s road race crown at the nationals. “This is just fantastic. I can’t thank the GreenEdge team enough for this victory.
“We had a tough task today to control Alejandro Valverde who is a classics rider. The last lap was very fast,” said a jubuliant Gerrans whose wife Rahna was in Adelaide to witness his win. “It’s an even sweeter victory than my first one here in 2006. It gives me the opportunity to thank for the first time the Ryan family (GreenEDGE team owners Gerry and Andrew) and (GreenEDGE General Manager) Shayne Bannan for putting this team together. It couldn’t be a better start for us.
“I had Robbie McEwen looking after me (and) that was pretty special since it was his last race in Australia,”said Gerrans of his team mate McEwen who holds the record for the most stage wins in the history of the Santos Tour Down Under, 12. Greipel today notched up his 11th stage win.
“What can I say?” said Greipel after flashing across the line a good bike length clear of Australian Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) and Italian sprint ace Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre). “The team Lotto-Belisol has just been amazing in leading me out to my third win of the week.
“It looks easy but it’s not,”he said. “I was nowhere in the front on GC (overall) this year but I’m happy with the sprint finishes. I always like to come to South Australia. It’s just nice to start the new season here rather than train in Europe.”
Further back in the peloton were Valverde and Gerrans who crossed the line 25th and 27th respectively split only by Gerran’s stage finish pilot McEwen who made sure the Spaniard was well marked.
“I’m just really happy and proud to be part of this team here at the Santos Tour Down Under. I’m not retiring today, that was my last Aussie race officially, but the season’s not done. I am still going to race for another four months after this,” said McEwen. “It’s a fantastic way to go out as far as Australia racing is concerned. I joined the team and was really excited about being a part of the GreenEDGE project racing in an Aussie team, our national team. It was all about winning the jersey and that’s the success for the team, it feels like a personal win to be a part of it.”
Despite not being on the top step of the podium Valverde was satisfied to have won the Tour’s first ever hilltop finish yesterday.
“I am very happy with finishing second in the Santos Tour Down Under,” said Valverde. “The outcome is much better than I expected when I came to Australia. Today was a super fast stage with a bit of wind that made it even more difficult. I’m very happy.”
At the end of the 803km six day event both Gerrans and Valverde remained deadlocked on 20:46:12 but Gerrans’ stage placings added up to a total of 102 and Valverde’s 175 giving the Australian the win.
“I certainly am [happy],” said GreenEDGE Team Director, Matt White, who last year steered Cameron Meyer to victory. “To win the Santos Tour Down Under with our newly crowned National Champion, we couldn’t have written a better script. [I’m] elated, just elated.”
Third place overall went to Portugese rider Tiago Machado (RadioShack-Nissan) who was eight seconds back with Canberra’s Michael Rogers (Sky Pro Cycling) fourth at 14 seconds. On the same time as Rogers in fifth place was 21 year old Rohan Dennis (UniSA-Australia) who recently claimed both the under 23 time trial and road race national titles.
Dennis was in superb form this week to claim the SKODA King of the Mountain classification and the Cycle Instead Best Young Rider (under 26) trophy.
“I wasn’t sure I was actually going to finish this race,” said Dennis explaining the effect on him of the fast start to the stage. “I was pretty happy it slowed down, I think everybody was. With that surge at the start it almost slowed it down and made it a little bit easier towards the end.”
Dennis was also given the Tanya Denver Award as the highest placed South Australian overall.
Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen had hoped to climb higher in the overall rankings today but an attack from Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Nissan) netted the Belgian some crucial bonus seconds in the Jayco intermediate sprints and pushed Boasson Hagen back to seventh. Bakelants’ audacious attack also saw him named the Hindmarsh Most Aggressive rider of the stage.
But Sky’s Boasson Hagen did hold onto his lead in the Jayco Sprint Classification to claim the trophy with 56 points, six ahead of Greipel.
“I got the jersey but I would like to be more up in the final stage, but I managed to keep the jersey so that’s a good thing,” said Boasson Hagen. “It’s an early start to the season and to be on top form now is difficult. I’m happy to be on OK form and I can still get better.”
The Brilliant Blend Team trophy was awarded to RadioShack-Nissan-Trek who were 24 seconds ahead of Sky ProCycling after the times of the top three ranked riders from each team were tallied.
“We like to win a team GC and on top of that we managed to place Tiago, we are pretty happy with the outcome of the race,” said team captain Jens Voigt.
The final word goes to the man considered the most successful cyclist of all time, Belgian legend Eddy Merckx who was a special guest at this year’s event.
“It was a great race and I will be thanking everybody, everything was great,” said Merckx.
Photo: Santos Tour Down Under / Regallo