Gerrans breaks drought in style
Happy Australia Day ... Simon Gerrans wins stage five of the 2013 Tour Down Under. Photo: Getty Images
Simon Gerrans chose the best day – and way – to ensure the Tour Down Under will not finish in Adelaide without an Australian victory by winning the fifth stage on Saturday.
Gerrans gave the huge crowds that lined the roads of the tour on Australia Day extra cause for cheer by unleashing his brilliant counter attack on the finishing climb to win the 151.5 km fifth stage from McLaren Vale to the top of Old Willunga Hill to break the drought of success for Australia.
Until Saturday no Australian had won a stage in this year's race, and any hope of an Australian overall winner this year disappeared early.
For Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE), last year's Tour Down Under champion, winning the Queen stage made up for not being able to defend his title this year due to asthma problems.
"I was pretty disappointed to drop out of contention on stage two for the overall [victory], and had one chance to really make up for that and that was [Saturday]. So I am rapt," Gerrans said.
"It was always important to try and get a result here and it just makes it even sweeter that it happens to be on Australia Day.
"To win here on Australia Day is like a fantastic feeling and a big thanks to my Orica-GreenEDGE teammates. They laid it on the line for me today. It was great to finish it off."
Saturday's stage also turned the overall classification on its head with Welshman Geraint Thomas (Sky) losing his race leader's jersey to the 23-year-old Dutch revelation of this year's tour, Tom Slagter (Blanco).
Slagter, who placed second on the stage to Gerrans in a tight two-up finish, began the stage in second position overall at 5 seconds to Thomas, whose 17th on the stage dropped him to fifth overall.
For Sunday's final stage, a 90 km circuit race in Adelaide, Thomas will be 29 behind Slagter, who has a 13 second overall lead on Spaniard Javier Moreno (Movistar), who was third at 10 seconds on Saturday, and 25 seconds on Belgian Ben Hermans (RadioShack-Leopard) who was 10th at 16 seconds on the stage.
"I just went backwards with 400[m] to go and lost the whole thing, but there you go," Thomas said of his change of fortune.
"I was giving everything but there wasn't much coming out. Immediately afterwards you're pretty gutted; you want to win.
"When we look back . .. I'm sure we'll have a lot of positives to take . . .
"It's only the first race of the year and it started with a bang, ended with a bang – the wrong kind of bang."
Saturday's stage lived up to its promise and, as expected, all came down to the final of two ascents up the 3 km Old Willunga Hill to the finish.
All the action came after an four-man break that formed on the first ascent of Old Willunga Hill was caught, inviting a number of individual attacks.
The first dangerous break for Thomas came when Portugal's Tiago Machado (RadioShack-Leopard), who started the stage, placed eighth overall at 15 seconds to him and attacked with two others.
But then Moreno, who was third overall at 6 seconds before the stage, jumped across and passed them.
Moreno's move triggered Gerrans to chase, and the Australian soon found himself on the Spaniard's wheel.
Then with 600m to go Slagter shot out from behind a tiring Thomas then bridged the gap to Gerrans and Moreno, whose own attack threatened his position overall as well as Thomas's.
"I saw Gerrans go with Moreno, knew I had to catch Moreno," Slagter said.
No sooner had Slagter joined and passed the pair that Gerrans chased him down. Moreno hung on for third place.
Slagter and Gerrans soon extended their lead and were left to fight out the stage win, but Gerrans was in full control.
He had not forgotten last year when he was pipped for the win by Spaniard Alejandro Valverde in a photo finish, although still took the race lead.
This time Gerrans got an inside run on the sharp last left-hand corner with 50m to go and beat Slagter, thrilled to have taken the overall lead.
"I never gave up until I was right to the line, especially when the young Blanco guy [Slagter] jumped across to us and went straight past," Gerrans said.
Twitter – @rupertguinness