Simon Gerrans Takes a One Second Overall Lead on Willunga Hill

Sat 25 Jan 2014

Simon Gerrans reclaimed the ochre leader’s jersey by just one second atop Willunga Hill, after a phenomenal day of racing on the penultimate stage of the Santos Tour Down Under. The three biggest names traded blows on the final climb up Willunga Hill, with Gerrans ultimately taking third place and a four second time bonus behind stage winner Richie Porte (Sky). Cadel Evans finished in sixth, four seconds down on Gerrans to put him in second place overall.

“I just managed to sneak back into the overall lead,” said Gerrans. “So it has been a great day. I tried to conserve as much as I could on the climb because there was quite a strong headwind. The second you put your nose in the wind here you really die down and I could see that Cadel was obviously a bit nervous because he had done a heck of a lot of work. When we jumped away in the finish, he wasn’t able to respond.”

A showdown was predicted ahead of today’s 151.5 kilometre stage from McLaren Vale to Willunga Hill- the final climb of the race and the last opportunity to make a real impression on the general classification. With just seven seconds separating Evans and Gerrans going into the stage, the team was anticipating the pressure that came from BMC and Sky throughout the stage.

“We knew we had to beat Cadel on the stage today; it was as simple as that,” said Sport Director Matt White. “It was always going to come down to the final climb over Willunga Hill. BMC wanted to make it a really, really hard climb and put as much pressure on Simon as possible, which they managed to do. Simon knows this climb so well, so he rode a very calculated race. He conserved when he needed to and came back at the end.”

Evans was the first to launch his attack on the second time up Willunga, but it was Porte who did the real damage, unleashing an explosive attack and putting an unassailable distance to his rivals. With Evans and Porte up the road in the final three kilometres, Gerrans and Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) were left to claw back the gap. Despite being prepared for the attacks that came from Evans and Porte, White admits there were some uncertain moments in the latter part of the final climb.

“When Cadel and Richie split, everyone was suddenly a bit isolated, so that was a very dangerous time for us," explained White. "Gerro was on his own and we had a couple of nervous moments. But he had it under control and once he got back to Cadel we were pretty confident we could beat him in a sprint. Cadel had done a lot of work over the climb and it was just enough for him to be a bit fatigued in the final. Simon’s experience here was a real advantage, he’s got a great track record on Willunga.”

"Patience was critical as everyone traded early blows," added Gerrans. "I knew I couldn’t waste any energy. I was on my limit for a lot of the climb, so I wasn’t in a position to do much more than I was doing. It’s a really tough finish especially with the headwind we had today. I knew if I jumped too early, I was going to pay for it and potentially get attacked at the top. Because I was patient, I had one good acceleration left for the line. 

It is familiar territory that Gerrans finds himself in this evening. In the 2012 edition of this race, he narrowly lost the stage to Willunga to Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and was equal on time with the Spanish climber for the overall. The following day, Gerrans took the ochre jersey on a countback and claimed his second overall Tour Down Under title. Well aware of the importance of time bonuses, ORICA-GreenEDGE has been consistently targeting intermediate sprint bonuses throughout the week.

“We aren’t surprised by this result," said White. "It was always going to come down to seconds, so we have targeted bonus seconds all week. At this point, we would rather be leading by one second than trailing by one second. We have the riders to be able to control tomorrow, and we feel like we are in a good position.”

"From the beginning, my teammates were committed to riding for me this week," said Gerrans. "They haven’t disappointed at all. In fact, they’ve been brilliant every day. They’ve given me very opportunity to win this race. It’s really thanks to them and for them that I’ve taken the lead by again. Hopefully we’ll hold onto it for one more day.

After reclaiming the ochre jersey and also taking the lead in the team’s classification ahead of stage six, the team had ample reason to celebrate atop Willunga Hill today.

“The guys were pretty elated at the finish,” noted White. “It has been a dream week for us here so they’re very happy to have the jersey back. To see the commitment from them has been awesome. Gossy and Michael Matthews- they’ve basically worked as domestiques all week. They’ve all worked so hard and it’s a great sign that we’ve got those guys willing to work for another teammate.”

With the narrowest possible margin going into the final day of racing at the Santos Tour Down Under, ORICA-GreenEDGE will call on the combined strength of their team to get Gerrans over the line in Downtown Adelaide tomorrow.

"Because the team is riding so well together, I’m confident we can win the overall tomorrow," said Gerrans. "The team has been great all week, and that gives me confidence going into the final stage. We’re going to have to be really good again tomorrow. We need to ride a smart, calculated race to hang onto the jersey, but we’re in a really good position going into the stage.