Simon Gerrans claws back time on GC at Santos Tour Down Under

Fri 24 Jan 2014

Simon Gerrans clawed back almost half of Cadel Evans’s (BMC) overall lead on stage four of the Santos Tour Down Under in a crosswind affected stage into Victor Harbor. An impressive team performance from ORICA-GreenEDGE helped to set Gerrans up for the two intermediate sprints, where he picked up five bonus seconds. In the final, Gerrans sprinted to fourth on the stage behind winner Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) and Elia Viviani (Cannondale).

Despite narrowly missing out on another time bonus for a top three finish, Gerrans retained his second place overall, and is now just seven seconds down on Evans. He will also wear the blue jersey of the points classification leader into stage five.

“We’re in a lot better situation than we were 24 hours ago,” said Sport Director Matt White. “We knew we had to take some bonus seconds today, and we ended up taking five out of the possible six available out on the road. The boys rode extremely well. They did a very good lead-out into the first intermediate sprint, and Gerro was able to capitalise on that and take maximum points.”

As predicted, strong winds on the 148.5 kilometre stretch of flat and open road between Unley and Victor Harbor played a major part in the way the race unfolded. Aware of the potentially damaging conditions, ORICA-GreenEDGE spent a nervous day vigilantly controlling the race and sheltering team leader Gerrans from the wind.

“After the first sprint, we had Mathew Hayman, Michael Matthews and Simon Clarke doing all of the work on the front, to try and bring back the two breakaway riders and give us a shot at taking the second intermediate bonuses. We were able to take the bunch by surprise, and with the winds in that section, we actually ended up splitting the peloton to pieces in the process.”

With the peloton reduced to about half, Lotto-Belisol and Garmin-Sharp moved to the front to set up their sprinters for the finish in Victor Harbor. ORICA-GreenEDGE also assembled their lead-out train to give Gerrans the best possible run in, but he was narrowly beaten on the line.

“Simon only narrowly missed out on taking third place, and also missed out on the bonus seconds for that," noted White. "But he’s obviously in great shape. The guys rode very, very well today and we’re certainly back in the game.”

With a deficit of just seven seconds on the eve of Saturday’s Queen stage around McLaren Vale, a win atop Willunga now looms as Gerrans’s best opportunity to reclaim the ochre jersey.

“Gerro is feeling confident ahead of Willunga," said White. "The past two years he has either won or come second there, so the climb certainly suits him. I expect to see Cadel, Simon and probably Richie Porte (Sky) battling it out tomorrow. I don’t think it’s a hard enough climb that any of those top guys will be able to distance each other too much, so it’s about the stage win and the overall lead is likely to come down to the bonuses for the win again.”

If victory on the popular climb in stage five proves elusive, the team may look beyond tomorrow’s 151.5 kilometre stage and target intermediate sprints on Sunday’s final street circuit stage in Adelaide.

“There’s still time to take back seven seconds in this Tour," noted White. "There’s 19 seconds available just on the last stage, and nine of those are through bonus sprints. But ideally we would like to be in the jersey after the stage tomorrow. We’re going to see the best guys battling it out for the stage win tomorrow, and we’re expecting a pretty interesting race. “