Geraint Thomas of Team Sky, who spent most of the 2012 season away from the road as he focused on the London Olympic Games, is the new leader of the Santos Tour Down Under. The Welshman attacked on the climb of Corkscrew Road and was joined by three riders on the 7-kilometre descent to the finish in Rostrevor, outsprinting them in the finale. Movistar’s Javier Moreno was second, with Ben Hermans of RadioShack Leopard Trek third.
Behind, there was a big crash on that descent that involved 30 or 40 riders, including world champion Philippe Gilbert of BMC Racing, one of the pre-race favourites for the overall,who lost nearly three minutes to Thomas.
Defending champion Simon Gerrans of ORica GreenEdge, meanwhile, lies 2 minutes 43 seconds behind his former Sky team mate. So far, only one rider, FDJ’s Arnaud Coutelle who suffered a broken nose and concussion, has had to abandon as a result of that crash.
Today’s stage was seen as one of two that will potentially influence the destination of the overall title, the other coming with a summit finish on Old Willunga Hill on Saturday.
Today’s win puts Thomas, who took a break from the road to focus on London 2012 last year but who has shown his climbing abilities in the past in races such as the Tour de France, where in 2011 he led the peloton up the Tourmalet, in a strong position to become the first winner of the Tour Down Under. Also in 2011, he picked up his first overall victory in a stage race in the Bayern Rundfahrt in Germany.
"I’m really happy with that,” said Thomas afterwards. “I’ve worked hard since the Olympics trying to lose the track weight and I’ve got some good kilometres in over the winter. I wanted to start this year strong. I knew I had decent form but you never know how well everyone else is going.
"I always knew that I’d have decent legs on the climb I just wasn’t sure how I’d go. I got a bit excited and attacked a bit earlier on there. With about 400 metres to go I was starting to tie up but fortunately there was that group behind and we were able to work well together.
"To get the win is a massive bonus for all the hard work over the winter."
Thomas had overhauled George Bennett of RadioShack Leopard Trek close to the summit of Corkscrew Road, going over the top on his own, but before long the Australian as well as Hermans and Moreno got across to him.
The Team Sky rider did much of the work on the way down to the finish, the other three riders in the group happy to let the world and Olympic team pursuit champion take the lead.
After the group passed under the flamme rouge, with the Welshman looking over his shoulder to make sure the group of 11 riders behind weren’t going to catch them, he dropped to the back before launching himself from a long way out, catching his rivals unaware and winning easily.
Gilbert described the crash that took place on the descent of Corkscrew Road, saying: "I crashed with 30 or 40 guys. They were laying there right on the corner. We just hit them. It was pretty impressive. I just had time to go to the left of the road and another group came behind us.
"It was very fast and there was a big crash.
"When Geraint attacked, I was already at my maximum and it was still a long way to the top. I tried to stay on the wheel, but I did not have the condition."
Another rider involved was Matthew Lloyd of Lampre-Merida. “I came around a corner and found a whole bunch of dudes on the road,” he reflected.
“Nowhere to go. I was [riding at] around 50 to 60 km/h. It wasn't too bad, but unfortunately there were 30 or 40 guys who came over the top of us. We had nowhere to go. It's one of those things. You cannot do anything about it.
"It was fast and there were corners everywhere. We were in a group of about 10 guys, there were four off the front, we were just behind. It was all relatively close. I am not sure who slid out first," he added.
Earlier in the 116.5 kilometre stage from Mount Barker, four riders had broken away, Calvin Watson of UniSA-Australia, Will Clarke of Argos-Shimano, AG2R La Mondiale’s Guillaume Bonnafond and Denmark's Christopher Juul Jensen, but they were kept on a tight leash ahead of that final climb.
Santos Tour Down Under Stage 2 result 1 THOMAS, Geraint Sky Procycling 2:44:18 2 MORENO BAZAN, Javier Movistar 0:01 3 HERMANS, Ben Radioshack Leopard st 4 SLAGTER, Tom Jelte Blanco 0:04 5 WELLENS, Tim Lotto Belisol st 6 PIETROPOLLI, Daniele Lampre-Merida st 7 BAUER, Jack Garmin Sharp st 8 KELDERMAN, Wilco Blanco st 9 IZAGIRRE, Ion Euskaltel Euskadi st 10 BENNETT, George Radioshack Leopard st 11 HANSEN, Adam Lotto Belisol st 12 ELISSONDE, Kenny FDJ st 13 MACHADO, Tiago Radioshack Leopard st 14 VEIKKANEN, Jussi FDJ st 15 IZAGIRRE, Gorka Euskaltel Euskadi st 16 ROJAS GIL, Jose Joaquin Movistar 0:21 17 PAUWELS, Serge Omega Pharma-Quick-Step st 18 CHEREL, Mikael AG2R La Mondiale st 19 KASHECHKIN, Andrey Astana st 20 VALLS FERRI, Rafael Vacansoleil-DCM st Overall standings after Stage 2 1 THOMAS, Geraint Sky Procycling 6:19:32 2 MORENO BAZAN, Javier Movistar 0:05 3 HERMANS, Ben Radioshack Leopa 0:07 4 PIETROPOLLI, Daniele Lampre-Merida 0:14 5 SLAGTER, Tom Jelte Blanco st 6 IZAGIRRE, Ion Euskaltel Euskadi st 7 IZAGIRRE, Gorka Euskaltel Euskadi st 8 WELLENS, Tim Lotto Belisol st 9 BAUER, Jack Garmin Sharp st 10 MACHADO, Tiago Radioshack Leopard st