GreenEDGE completed a perfect debut, as the latest addition to the UCI ProTeam family claimed overall victory at their ‘home’ race of the Tour Down Under. Simon Gerrans won the event for the second time, having previously won it with AG2R in 2006, while Andre Greipel stormed to his third stage victory to underline his position as arguably the greatest threat to the pre-eminence of Mark Cavendish in the sprints.
Read our collective thoughts on the first WorldTour race of 2012 below, but first here’s a quick summary of the final stage.
Stage 6: Wins for the three G’s – Gerrans, Greipel, GreenEDGE
Andre Greipel won his third stage of this year’s Tour Down Under after receiving the perfect lead-out from his Lotto-Belisol teammates. Simon Gerrans was 27th, but excellent team tactics by GreenEDGE meant his position as overall leader was never threatened by Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde.
Tied with Valverde on time but ahead on count-back, Gerrans had to do no more than ensure Valverde did not gain time bonuses on him at either of the intermediate sprints or at the finish. With Movistar not a major sprinting force, that threat was always limited, but GreenEDGE opted for attack as the best form of defence, sending riders into breaks at every opportunity and forcing the entire peloton to give chase to prevent any tactical threat. As it was, Movistar seemed content enough with their stage win for Valverde, and played no real part in the day’s proceedings.
Fittingly, the final break of the day was a solo effort by another GreenEDGE rider, 2011 overall winner Cameron Meyer. His effort was always doomed to failure – no breakaway rider has ever won the final stage here – but it gave a raucous home crowd something to cheer. Meyer was swallowed up halfway round the last of the 20 4.5km circuits as first Lampre-ISD (for Alessandro Petacchi) and Lotto-Belisol (for Greipel) cranked up the pace.
But there was to be no stopping the man they call ‘The Gorilla’. Lotto exerted an iron grip on the peloton from just over 1km out, putting three men on the front ahead of Greipel and giving none of the other teams a sniff. The German put the hammer down with 150m to go and even the fast-finishing Mark Renshaw was unable to close to within two lengths of him. Petacchi was a distant third, and Gerrans crossed the line safely in the pack to claim overall victory.
Afterwards, Gerrans was delighted to have been able to get the fledgling GreenEDGE team off to a flying start:
I knew it was going to be so important for the team to start out in good shape and get some results on the board really early. So I made it a target of mine to win the Australian Championships and the Tour Down Under. I’ve ticked those boxes so it really is a dream start to the season.
VeloVoices’ Steele Von Hoff was just behind Gerrans in the main bunch. He finished 77th overall and 18th in the young rider classification.
Stage 6 result
1. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) 1:56:48
2. Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) same time
3. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) s/t
4. Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ-Big Mat) s/t
5. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) s/t
1. Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE) 20:46:12
2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) same time
3. Tiago Machado (RadioShack Nissan Trek) +0:08
4. Michael Rogers (Sky) +0:14
5. Rohan Dennis (UniSA-Australia) s/t
After the final stage, Kathi, Sheree and Tim put their heads together for a quick review of the Tour Down Under. Here is a summary of the discussion.
It’s always a relief to finally get the season under way, but were we happy with the quality of the racing at this year’s Tour Down Under?
Tim: Yes. Perhaps unfairly, I tend to think of the TDU as a final pre-season friendly rather than an opening fixture, but this year’s edition was rather fun because the parcours had lots of variety. We had the usual clutch of sprinters’ stages, a rolling stage two that was always going to give a breakaway a decent chance (and so it proved), Old Willunga Hill was allowed to show its teeth by moving the stage five finish to its summit, and I will admit I completely underestimated the selection Menglers Hill would enforce on the race in stage four. I had that down as a straightforward bunch sprint. In the words of a famous philosopher: “D’oh!”
Kathi: I thought it was a great Tour for a couple of reasons. The new (and merged) teams were finding their feet and working out the kinks, which always makes for an edgier race. GreenEDGE in particular had something to prove, which meant that it was always going to be a fiercely contested race. And a couple of individual riders had some things to prove, if only to themselves. Mark Renshaw is trying to move from best lead-out man to best sprinter with mixed results (interesting he was asked to switch in the middle of the week to lead-out man for Michael Matthews in the hopes that Matthews would win the stage and take the ochre jersey – and Matthews couldn’t stay on his wheel). And of course Alejandro Valverde wanted to make a splash in his first race back from his doping ban. No matter where you looked, there was something interesting going on.
Sheree: I enjoyed it more than I thought I would for a couple of reasons. Yes, the parcours was more interesting but mainly I was watching out for our teams and riders. It’s clear that it’s no longer seen as a training ride in the sun. Everyone came here to race. Some, not unnaturally the Australians, had high hopes and points to prove as did some of the others, notably Greipel, Valverde, Oscar Freire and Will Clarke. The locals must have been delighted with their boys, not just Simon Gerrans‘ win overall but also Clarke’s brave getaway and under-23 Australian road and time trial champion Rohan Dennis, who last year rode for Rabobank’s Continental squad. How could they not have signed him up?
Was Simon Gerrans a worthy winner?
Kathi: I think Gerrans is a worthy winner – he certainly galvanised the GreenEDGE team to ride hard for him on the final stage to keep his wafer-thin lead over Valverde. It was definitely a team win for GreenEDGE – considering the lacklustre first years of much-hyped new teams over the past couple years – stand up Team Sky and Leopard Trek – it was good to see a new team starting their season off with a bang. Whether they’ll be a force for the rest of the year is yet to be seen.
Sheree: Absolutely! Let’s not forget, here’s a guy who’s won stages in all three Grand Tours but who was riding in support of Sky riders for the past two years. He’s obviously been given a more pivotal role at GreenEDGE, repaid their faith and relishing in it. I’m delighted for him.
Tim: No question. He was the best all-rounder of the week, involved at the sharp end every day. He’s talking about targeting the Ardennes Classics now – he could do well.
Who impressed you this week?
Sheree: I was delighted to see Valverde win the queen stage and to see how much it meant to him and the team.
There’s been a lot of talk about thighs, most notably Greipel’s but, as far as thighs go, it’s got to be those of Tom Boonen, which I’ll be looking out for in this week’s Tour de San Luis.
Tim: Seen Tom out on the roads again, then? I’m still in two minds over Valverde, even though I accept he’s done his time. There’s no question he’s a talented and exciting rider to watch, though. Being a sprint fan, it’s Andre Greipel who impressed me, obviously. Not just for the fact he won three stages, but the manner of them. On each occasion he was well placed to apply his formidable jump – neither too early nor too late. It will be interesting to see if he can carry this kind of form into the rest of the season. I also think Yauheni Hutarovich, who was second in stage three and third in stage one, is due a good season. It’s easily forgotten that he is a Grand Tour stage winner (at the 2010 Vuelta), in which he beat Cav fair and square.
Kathi: Yep, Greipel for me. Not least the size of his legs. [It’s not size that matters – Ed.]
Who disappointed you?
Sheree: It’s too early in the season to play point the digit. But riders rarely disappoint me: team tactics yes, riders no.
Kathi: I was hoping that Robbie McEwen would take a stage in his last Tour Down Under as a rider. But his leadership and experience were instrumental in helping Gerrans win the whole thing.
Tim: With the caveat that you can’t read too much into early season form, I was disappointed in Matt Goss, who I’d tipped as one of the pre-race favourites. Did anyone notice him? He finished 101st, nearly 33 minutes down, but I guess Gerrans was the nominated leader for GreenEDGE so that’s understandable. It was also a shame Movistar didn’t make a bigger effort on the final stage, although I suppose Valverde had already proved his point. They were always going to be underdogs against the more sprint-focussed GreenEDGE, but why not have a go on the off-chance that Gerrans made a mistake or suffered a mechanical problem?
Who else caught your eye?
Kathi: Our young gun, Steele Von Hoff, was fun to follow. Knowing nothing about him but seeing him steadily move up the rankings every day was a nice way to view the race – mind, he finished 77th but he kept in there. From a fan point of view, keeping an eye on all the tweets and twitter pics from both fans and riders, the Tour Down Under impressed me with the relaxed atmosphere around it. It’s one of the great things about the sport in that you can get so close to the riders and they all seemed quite relaxed and happy to interact with fans. Would have been fun to be there!
Tim: Sadly, the retirement of Frederic Gusedon in the final-kilometre crash on the opening stage. I had forgotten he was a previous Paris-Roubaix winner, and it seems he will no longer get his wish to retire from professional cycling at that race this spring. Crashing out on the opening day of the opening race of the season is no way for anyone to bow out, let alone a former P-R winner.
Sheree: I’d echo your comment about Guesdon, Tim, but I was very taken by Rohan Dennis, yet another graduate of the AIS.
Tim: Yes, he was very impressive. The TDU is always a great showcase for young Aussies, and the likes of Dennis and Clarke certainly made the most of their opportunity to do just that.
Any final comments?
Tim: I never have massively high expectations of the TDU, but it did produce a close, competitive race with several lead changes and just enough unpredictability to keep it intriguing.
Sheree: It’s great that the Aussies, who are such tremendous sports lovers, now have a team to get behind. I also like the look of Adelaide which I’ve not visited. I may have to pay the Tour Down Under a visit one of these years.
Tim: On a down note, as I mentioned in my race report at the time, it was fortunate that the spectator caught up in the stage one crash did not seem to be seriously hurt. Given that it occurred after the flamme rouge, why were there no barriers in place? Safety should always be paramount, and it really didn’t take a genius to work out that the first major sprint of the season on a blisteringly hot day was always likely to result in a crash as everyone tripped over themselves – literally, as it transpired – to register that all-important first win.
Kathi: I’m just glad the season is under way!
Tim: Amen to that.
Watch out for more race reviews and round-tables in the near future.