Super Simon Wins Sprint in ElgoibarTue 2 Apr 2013
ORICA-GreenEDGE was all in for Simon Gerrans on the first stage of Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco. A crash split the field over the day’s final summit, and thanks to the tireless work by his teammates, Gerrans was well-positioned when the front group took shape. Pieter Weening also made the split and immediately jumped to the head of the bunch to set a blistering pace down the mountain towards the finish. In the final kilometre, Weening perfectly delivered Gerrans to the line.
“The plan of attack was formed around me today,” said Gerrans. “The whole team committed to the stage win. It’s nice to repay the team’s work at the end of the day. Christian [Meier] did a great job looking after me early on in the stage. The rest of the guys rode fantastic in the hills. They set me up for the stage win and Pieter up for GC [the general classification].”
Sport Director Neil Stephens makes his European residence in the Basque Country and lives less than an hour away from today’s course. When he saw the race route, he suspected today’s stage was one on which Gerrans could win. His suspicions were confirmed after he recon’ed the stage two weeks ago.
“I know these roads, and when I heard about this stage a month ago, I knew it was a day for Simon,” said Stephens. “Ten days ago, I came out and previewed the stage. This morning, Pieter, Simon and I left the hotel a little early and we had a look at the last 30 kilometres. We obviously couldn’t have predicted the crash at the end, but the rest of the race unfolded exactly as we would have expected. If we were going to win today, it was going to be with Simon. We put all our energy into him.”
With the end goal in mind, Stephens directed the team to save their legs during the early action. The field allowed five riders up the road, and when a two man breakaway formed from the original five escapees, teams with GC ambitions controlled the chase.
“I asked the boys not to get involved with the early action,” explained Stephens. “I was quite concerned about a series of hard climbs 50-60 kilometres into today’s stage. I wanted the boys to conserve energy for that. It was important for them to get over that harder area in order to execute what we wanted to do at the finish. It was a small risk not to be involved, but the race was well-controlled by teams that have aspirations with GC.”
Laurent Didier (RadioShack Leopard Trek) and Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural) gained a maximum advantage of 5’15” during the second hour of racing. The gap began to tumble by the mid-point of the stage.
Eighteen kilometres from the finish in Elgoibar, on the lower slopes of the Alto de San Miguel, it was gruppo compatto. A crash at the summit, with 7.5 kilometres left to race, allowed an elite group of 17 riders to form. Weening lead the group down the twisty descent of the sixth and final categorised climb.
“We were lucky not to have any of our riders go down in the crash,” said Stephens. “Simon Clarke had to put a foot out and Wes [Wesley Sulzberger] was pushed into a wall, but no one hit the floor.”
“After the crash at the summit, Pieter saw that I had made the split and was in good position,” added Gerrans. “He did a fantastic job on the descent and in the final. It was basically thanks to him that I won. He set me up perfectly.”
A second group gave chase down the mountain. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) heralded the 20 riders in hot pursuit of the group ahead in the hopes to limit the damage to his general classification ambitions. The first group of chasers had closed the gap to 5” by the time Gerrans outkicked Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step) for the win.
“Pieter is a great team player,” said Stephens. “He drilled it for Gerro and whatever seconds he got for himself was purely luck and a bit of a reward for the hard work he did for a teammate. In the end, we achieved both objectives. Simon won the stage and Pieter is in a good spot for the overall.”
“It was an effort from everybody today,” Stephens continued. “All the riders were great, and the staff was really good as usual. When we don’t win, it’s not because we’re not putting in the effort. We’re putting in the effort all the time, and we’re happy when our efforts produce a win. Congratulations to all the team and huge thanks to our supporters.”
While Gerrans was the first to admit that his preparation for Milan-Sanremo was less than ideal, he’s now finding great confidence in his build-up to the Ardennes Classics.
“This is perfect, ” said Gerrans. “I focused on winning one specific stage at Catalunya and another stage here. I’ve accomplished both goals, and it shows that my form is coming up nicely. My preparation for Milan-Sanremo wasn’t what I had hoped, but it’s turning around to work out really well leading to the Ardennes. We’re still a couple weeks out, and I just need to keep building on the form that I have now.”
Having won the first stage, Gerrans leads the Pais Vasco general classification. He’ll start stage two in the yellow jersey.
“We’ll have to take a bit more responsibility in the race tomorrow now that I’m in yellow,” he said with a smile. “I’m sure the team is up for it.”