Team Sky’s CJ Sutton and Greg Henderson crossed the line first and second in a bunch sprint in the sixth and final stage of the Santos Tour Down Under in Adelaide today to provide a winning end to the British team’s first ProTour race. Sky may have won the battle, but victory in this particular war went to Team HTC Columbia, for whom Andre Greipel took the overall win.
The result also meant that Henderson, who had yesterday dropped to sixth in the overall standings, moved back up to third to claim a place on the podium.
Greipel finished fifth to become only the second rider in the event’s 12-year history to win the race twice, emulating the achievement of South Australia’s own Stuart O’Grady.
Caisse D’Epargne’s Luis Leon Sanchez, winner of yesterday’s Stage 5, finished second overall 11 seconds down, with Henderson 15 seconds behind Greipel.
Almost 125,000 spectators turned out on the streets of Adelaide to watch today’s closed-circuit race, which took place over 20 laps of 4.5km each, taking aggregate attendance for the six-stage race to more than three quarters of a million.
The Team Sky one-two was the culmination of a near-perfect execution of its race plan, as Sutton explained afterwards: “I could not believe that sprint, we talked about our team tactics last night and it was all about team work, we took over control with two kilometres to go and we had the perfect lead out."
However, it didn’t all go quite according to plan, with the Australian rider saying: "I was the last man to lead out Greg. I went as long as I could and thought if 'Hendy' could come around me, he would. I held on and got the win and we got one and two, which is incredible!”
The result was a reversal of the team’s one-two in last week’s Cancer Council Helpline Classic, and also gave cause for celebration among home fans, including Sutton’s father Gary, whom the rider sought out on his victory lap. “I just went to see my old man at the top of the hill and my sister said he nearly had a heart attack so I hope he's alright," laughed Sutton.
The Australian rider praised the part his team-mates played in his victory, saying: “All the boys played their part," adding, "I just kicked and went as long as I could.
"It's not just my effort - it's Mat Hayman, Davide Viganò, Chris Froome, Ben Swift, Russell Downing and obviously Hendy. We're a new team and everyone is working well together already. It's all about learning each other's strengths and weaknesses.”
He added: "Greg said it at the start of the week but I think we have one of the fastest [lead-out] trains. We've had a week of ups and downs but it's all about learning."
For Henderson, finishing second behind his team-mate was a rather bittersweet experience. Following the race, he posted a tweet on the social netwroking site, Twitter, saying: "Ouch. Just been informed if I won 2day I would have been 2nd overall at TDU. takes a little of the gloss off to be honest."
Nevertheless, tam principal Dave Brailsford was understandably elated at the fledgling team’s performances during its first week of racing, saying: “It's very satisfying. If you'd told me we'd come away with two wins when we got on the plane to come down here, I'd have taken it with both hands. There's still a lot of learning to be done, but there aren't many negatives. It's a great start, a great finish, and we'll go home on a high."
When asked what the main lesson to be drawn from the week was, Brailsford echoed Sutton’s comments about the importance of teamwork: "It's undoubtedly that in this sport, the greatest strength is in the whole team. You're not going to win anything on your own at this level. Unity is so important, and we've seen it done with the exemplary performance by HTC-Columbia all week, and credit to them. They were brilliant.”
"But our lads today came in with a plan and executed it absolutely to perfection. To finish first and second again is phenomenal. We took Chris into the team knowing he had the ability to win stages like this. And Greg's been tremendous all week. It's one of the first times he's led a team into a race like this, and he was a credit to himself."
Brailsford conceded that HTC-Columbia remained the team to beat, saying: "There's no doubt about that. They're a well oiled team, they're firmly in the groove of winning; they are the benchmark and we are the underdogs,” he said. "But we've taken them on and beaten them twice, and we've got to be satisfied with that. Greipel is up there with anybody as a sprinter, but the fact we have beaten him shows the importance of the team - it's about organisation, commitment and willingness to take it on.
"There's a lot that goes on in a stage race that people don't see - the grind of sitting at the front,” Brailsfrod continued. Columbia sat on the front of the peloton all day, riding hard, and still managed to set up the finishes - that takes some doing. And that's where we've still got some room to develop.”
He concluded by saying: "It's been a superb race," added Brailsford, "with a field that was in very good shape. This wasn't a warm up race - the guys were going really, really hard, and a lot of teams had their 'A' teams here. We know we've got some work to do, some areas to look at, but I think the guys showed real guts today. They have done tremendously well."
Greipel’s overall victory, his second in three years – he was forced to abandon through injury 12 months ago after hitting a parked police motorcycle – continue his remarkable record in the race, where he has won eight of the 14 stages he has completed.
Those performances have helped earn him the nickname of André The Giant – coincidentally, the name of the character appearing in the Obey series of posters by Shepard Fairey, one of the artists employed by Lance Armstrong last year to decorate his Team Astana Trek Madone frames.
Commenting on his win, Greipel said: “The other teams had to do the work today if they wanted to win. We just stayed calm and managed our own race.”
He added: "I am very happy to have won this race twice, the team have ridden well all week and we deserve this.”
Greipel also won the Jayco Sprint jersey, with other classifications topped by the Belgian Jurgen Roelands of Omega Pharma Lotto, who won the Cycle Instead Best Young Rider U26 competition, French outfit AG2R la Mondiale, winner of the SA Brilliant Blend Teams competition and Milram's Austrian rider Thomas Rohregger, who took the Skoda King of the Mountain jersey.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.