Tour Down Under Stage 1: Simon Gerrans outrsprints André Greipel to take race lead
Two-time winners go head-to-head in WorldTour season opener in South Australia
Simon Gerrans of Orica-GreenEdge, looking to become a record three-time winner of the Santos Tour Down Under, is the first leader of this year’s 16th edition of the race after beating the only other current rider to have one it twice, Lotto-Belisol’s André Greipel, to take victory in Angaston.
Time bonuses mean that Gerrans has a lead of 5 seconds over Greipel, with Garmin-Sharp’s Steele Von Hoff, who followed the pair across the line, third overall.
"I guess I’ve surprised a few, myself included," reflected Gerrans following the 135km stage from Nuriootpa, which went ahead as planned after the threat to safety from bush fires receded.
"Obviously André (Greipel) is one of the fastest sprinters around.
"It was a tough finale and everyone was tired. I had to sprint really late because of the head wind.
“Looking towards the end of the week, it might have been better if André had the lead but we’ve seen in the past few years that this race is won or lost by seconds, so you have to take every opportunity.
"Every second counts. I hope it’s not too early to hold the jersey but we have a fantastic squad here, so I’m optimistic for keeping the lead till the end," he added.
Two riders broke away early on during the stage, Will Clarke of Drapac and Neil van der Ploeg of the UniSA-Australia team, building a lead of around 3 minutes over the peloton.
They were reeled in ahead of the Category 1 climb of Mengler’s Hill that came towards the end of the stage, with Lotto-Belisol’s Adam Hansen crossing the top it first to become the first leader of the mountains classification in this year’s race.
"Garmin-Sharp and Sky were pulling in the climb but I was in a very good position, so I decided to have a go and see what happened," he said.
"It’s a nice jersey to have but I don’t think I’ll fight to defend it. Our main goal remains to win a stage and I’ll work for that as a priority."
After the summit was crested, Europcar riders rider Yukiya Arashiro and Bjorn Thurau tried to get away, as did Tinkoff-Saxo’s Rory Sutherland, but the group of around 70 riders contesting the finish swallowed them back up as the sprinters prepared for the finish.
While many would have backed Greipel, winner of a record 14 Tour Down Under stages, to prevail, the German said today’s finale didn’t suit him.
"It was a perfect finish for Gerro today. The gearing was just too hard for me,” he explained.
"It wasn't a bunch sprint today, it was very hard today, and I am no climber. I tried to go up as fast as possible, so it's a good sign that the condition is there but the headwind played against us today."
Tomorrow’s Stage 2 covers 150km from Prospect to Stirling via the Adelaide Hills.