On the first of today’s 18 laps Maxim Belkov (Katusha), Angelo Tulik (Europcar) and Will Clarke (Drapac) made their escape from the main field, the last of whom was in his third breakaway of the race’s six stages.
And just as it looked like the trio was about to settle in and start building a bit of a lead, Tulik crashed heavily on a right-hand bend and abandoned the race. Belkov, who’d been behind Tulik at the time, had to fight hard to catch up with Clarke who was riding alone at the front of the race.
Behind them Julien Berard (AG2r) was escaping from the peloton and soon joined the leaders as their gap started to widen. Back in the Orica-GreenEDGE-controlled main field Simon Gerrans would have been more than happy to see the break’s advantage grow — with three riders up the road, all of the time bonuses available at the first intermediate sprint would be accounted for and Cadel Evans (and others) wouldn’t be able to claw back at his lead.
On lap three Luke Durbridge came to the front of the bunch to do some work for Gerrans, as he’s done so often this week. And later in the lap Team Sky made their way forward, increasing the pace ahead of the first intermediate sprint after six laps, presumably in an attempt to snaffle some bonus seconds for fourth-placed Richie Porte.
But even after a couple of laps at the pointy end of the main field, Sky was unable to put a meaningful dent in the advantage Clarke, Belkov and Berard had built for themselves.
Ahead of the first intermediate sprint Will Clarke got a rear puncture and was forced to chase back to the leaders after a slow wheel change. Berard was first to the intermediate sprint point, picking up five sprint points and three bonus seconds, with Belkov taking three points and two seconds, and Clarke, a few seconds behind, taking the remaining two points and one bonus second.
By lap eight of 18 it was Luke Durbridge back on the front for Orica-GreenEDGE while the breakaway riders had two minutes up their sleeve. With Orica-GreenEDGE controlling the pace there was no real chance of the break being chased down before the second intermediate sprint after 12 laps. Belkov crossed that point first, ahead of Berard and Clark and at that point it looked almost certain that Simon Gerrans would win the Santos Tour Down Under … if it hadn’t already.
With BMC and Orica-GreenEDGE working overtime the peloton was strung right out and riders were steadily being spat out the back. The leaders were caught on lap 16, with roughly 10km to go in the race, as a line of six Orica-GreenEDGE riders flew by, Michael Matthews at the helm.
On the following (and penultimate lap) Danilo Wyss helped Cadel Evans to move to the front of the field while Richie Porte too was well-placed on the opposite site of the bunch. A Cannondale train came to the front as well, in support of their sprinter Elia Viviani, as did Giant-Shimano in support of Marcel Kittel.
With about 1km to go Omega Pharma-QuickStep took up the charge with Mark Renshaw positioned ahead of the team’s promising British sprinter Andrew Fenn. And then with 900m to go, the Marcel Sieberg-led Lotto-Belisol sprint train flew past, Andre Greipel perfectly poised in third wheel.
One by one Greipel’s teammates peeled off and when the German national champion jumped, nobody could stop him. Greipel powered through to take his second stage win at this year’s Santos Tour Down Under and his 16th overall, an all-time record.
Renshaw finished second ahead of his teammate Fenn, while Koen de Kort (Giant-Shimano) came through for fourth after Marcel Kittel found himself off the back and unable to contest the final sprint. Jonathan Cantwell capped off a solid Tour Down Under for his new Drapac team, finishing fifth.
Behind the sprinters the GC-contenders were crossing the line more or less together. Nathan Haas (7th), Simon Gerrans (11th), Robert Gesink (22nd), Diego Ulissi (23rd), Cadel Evans (24th) and Richie Porte (26th) all finished with the same time, ensuring there was no change to the top-10 in the general classification.
The overall win makes Simon Gerrans the first rider to win the Tour Down Under on three separate occasions (2006, 2012 & 2014). He also takes home the sprint classification jersey after winning stage 1, picking up a handful of high-placed finishes — second on stage 2, fifth on stage 3, fourth on stage 4 and third on stage 5 — and taking a few intermediate sprint points along the way.
In the KOM classification Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) took the lead after being first up Menglers Hill on stage 1 and he never relinquished it. Jack Haig (UniSA/Australia) showed the world that he’s going to be a star of the future, winning the best young rider classification by more than a minute. Haig took the lead on stage 4 when he made the day’s decisive split while overnight leader Kenny Elissonde (FDJ.fr) didn’t.
Haig was able to mark his nearest rival Carlos Verona (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) on the final climb up Willunga Hill yesterday to secure the white jersey for his UniSA/Australia team.
In the team’s classification it was Orica-GreenEDGE who took the final honours ahead of BMC while Drapac more than justified their wildcard invite, finishing an impressive third on teams classification and being visible in almost every breakaway throughout the race.
But the 2014 Santos Tour Down Under truly belongs to Simon Gerrans. He took the overall lead on stage 1 after outsprinting Andre Greipel into Angaston and held on to it after stage 2. On stage 3 Cadel Evans put in arguably the most memorable ride of the race, tearing up Corkscrew Road to win the stage and take the ochre jersey off Simon Gerrans.
Evans held the lead after stage 4 finished with a sprint in Victor Harbor but on stage 5 Gerrans took the lead back on the famous Willunga Hill. Whether it was a mistake by Evans or the superiority of Orica-GreenEDGE that influenced the result, Gerrans was back in ochre and he wouldn’t let it go on today’s final stage.
The last time Simon Gerrans won the Australian nationals road race and the Tour Down Under in one season (2012) he went on to win Milan-San Remo just a few months later. It will be with interest that we watch the man from Mansfield’s progress as the 2014 season unfolds. One thing that has changed from previous years is that the Tour of Flanders will be one of Gerrans’ targets this season.