The pain Simon Gerrans endured to win the Tour Down Under for a record fourth time – and two stages along the way – was a world away from how he felt this time last year when he had to miss the World Tour opener due to a broken collarbone.
A frustrated Gerrans had to watch the race on television as Rohan Dennis beat Richie Porte in an all-Australian battle for overall honours.
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Simon Gerrans wins Tour Down Under
Simon Gerrans claims his fourth Tour Down Under title, while teammate Caleb Ewan takes out the final stage of the race.
Only now, with this win under his belt, can Gerrans cast aside the weight of disappointment that precipitated a season marred by seven crashes and in which he was repeatedly sidelined by injury.
"That hurt a lot," Gerrans said of missing last year's Tour Down Under. "But I feel like I have really made up for it now. Watching the race from afar last year, I could see that Richie was in blistering form, as was Rohan. So it was always going to be a tough one to win. Watching from the sidelines I thought it would have been tough to beat those guys, but to come back this year and get another win that makes up for it."
Gerrans, 35, went in to Sunday's sixth and last stage – a 90-kilometre circuit race in Adelaide - with an overall lead of 9 seconds on Porte and 11s on Colombian Sergio Henao (Sky).
And that is how the overall podium times remained after Gerrans' Australian teammate Caleb Ewan won the stage in a bunch sprint from countryman Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data) and Italian Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo), while Gerrans, Porte and Henao finished in the peloton at the same time.
For Gerrans, who won the tour in 2006, 2012 and 2014, his fourth overall victory was also a credit to the support work of his Orica-GreenEDGE teammates who often rode at the front to control the race and set up Ewan for his second stage win of the tour.
"It's hard to believe I have won this race four times now," Gerrans said. "Every year I come back it just seems to get bigger and better and it feels like the level of race increases every year. So to get a fourth title … I'm absolutely over the moon."
For GreenEDGE it was a near-perfect tour with Gerrans winning the overall winner's ochre jersey, red points jersey and two stages, and Ewan's brace of wins.
Gerrans' victory also put him in first place on the World Tour leaderboard and was another reminder of how well he can target a race, prepare for it and then deliver. To win the Tour Down Under where there are not only hills but also intermediate and finishing sprints offering vital time bonuses, Gerrans had to train specifically for it.
"You have to be pretty complete to win here at the Tour Down Under, and my pre-season training included a bit of everything," Gerrans said. "There was a lot of climbing, a lot of explosive sprint training and it looks like I got it just right."
Porte was pleasantly surprised after his win in Saturday's fifth stage to Willunga Hill that put him in second overall. "I definitely came in here underdone," he said.
His focus has been on following a steadier rise to top form for the Tour de France in July and Olympics in August, rather than hitting his straps in January like last year.
"I'm not in fantastic shape just yet, so it's a good stepping stone into probably the most important season of my career," said Porte, who was pragmatic about losing 8s on Friday due to a split near the finish.
"It's one of those things. But … if I'm going to finish second, I'd rather finish by nine seconds to Simon rather than one second."