Gerrans Willunga Win a Classic Move

Rewind the clock twelve months.  Simon Gerrans was being cheered to the rafters as Tour Down Under Champion, just 2 weeks after taking away National glory.  GreenEDGE were under pressure to begin their debut season with a bang. With victories. With Glory. Gerro delivered.

 

He was on rare form.  The best rider in the world over the first three months of 2012.  Three months that culminated in those rarest of beasts.  An Australian on the top step at a classic.  And not just a classic. La Primervera.  Milan – SanRemo.  A Monument of the sport.

 

Gerro’s win surprised many, probably even himself.  But when the legs are that good…..

 

His target last year, as every year, was glory in the Ardennes in April.  And on the roads of France in July.  But the trouble with form is that it can be a fickle beast.  Gerrans was unable to hold it through to his pet events Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.  He wasn’t bad by any means.  But he wasn’t in the mix.

 

Come July in France it was a similar tail.  Decent legs, breakaway attempts, punchy finishes, no no results.

 

The Bell Curve saw a resurgence in August in the one dayers, but overall it was strange paradox of a season.  Moments to be cherished.  Moments of regret.  

 

Now fast forward.  Willunga 2013.  The battleground that saw Valverde pip the national champ twelve months previous, was treated to another afternoon of drama.  But this time Gerrans, with no Ochre aspirations triumphed in front of an exultant home crowd.

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The pressures on the team leader this year are vastly different.  GreenEDGE had to win everything in January last year.  No excuses.  Start with a bang.  Gerro, you’re the man.  It’s a different environment this time around.  

 

The pressure is less.  Simon’s failure to conquer the Corkscrew on Stage 2, shut the door on defending the title.  But at the same time,  allowed him the freedom to do what he does best.  Assess the legs.  Assess the race.  Assess the parcours.  Assess the riders. And win the race.  He does it better than most.

 

Gerro’s form is good, perhaps not quite at last years level, but still very good, and with some careful management it can continue to grow and peak in mid-April, the roads of the Ardennes, the roads he cherishes the most.  The lessons of last year will be learnt.

 

There’s something magical about the races in the sport’s heartland.  The cobbled climbs.  The unpredictable weather.  The crowds, shouting themselves hoarse.  Their breath reeking of Leffe or Duval as the riders past by, inches away.  It’s a battleground for riders.  Riders like Gerrans.

 

The challenge ahead though, is daunting.  Philippe Gilbert has shown enough in Adelaide to suggest that his legs are good.  Cancellara and Boonan will be ready to battle.  Andy Schleck is targeting La Doyenne, with Nibali and Evans also sniffing around.  

 

Gerrans will be assisted by a team a year older and a year wiser.  Lieutenants like O’Grady, Langeveldt, Albasini and Mouris.  Strong men.  Hard men.  Men of the classics.

 

Gerrans is already assured of his place in Australian cycling history.  Wins in all three Grand Tours.  Natioanl Champipon.  Stage race winner.  Classic winner.

 

Claim victory in April, and not only will he be in the Australian Hall of Fame.  He will move into rarified air.  A two time Classics winner.  It’s what a rider of his ability deserves.

 

 

Wilunga to be the battle ground again

Before this edition of the Tour Down Under, it was predicted that Stage 2, the climb of Corkscrew Hill would split the bunch to bots and decide the selection before a final battle of the slopes of Old Wilunga.

And lo, it has come down to that, although maybe not quite in the way we expected.  The crashes that marred the descent of the Corkscrew has contributed as much to the make up of the race, with Phillippe Gilbert and Matty Lloyd, amongst many to hit the bitumen and see their GC hopes tumble down the slope with them.

We also saw some rusty legs from some of the favourites too, notably Simon Gerrans, as the challenge came earlier than normal.

So we have an eclectic mix of GC riders in the running for overall honours, led by Geraint Thomas.  The Sky strongman has trained the house down in Adelaide since Christmas, and was superb in Wednesday’s stage, taking the victory after a bold attack on the climb, a nerveless decent, and trackie’s style sprint.  Thomas is set for a big 2013 with major Classic ambitions (Flanders is his big aim), and a spot in the all conquering Team Sky TDF squad, possibly in the place of Michael Rogers, now of Saxo-Tinkoff.

While Thomas and his team are in control, there are a number of challengers milling around Thomas.  A bunch of riders that are reflecting a new generation.  Winner in Stirling, Tom Slagter of the rebranded Blanco outfit sits 5 seconds back, and his team have a double threat with the exciting Wilco Kelderman sitting in tenth spot.  They have a strong two card hand to play.  Kelderman in particular looks to have a huge future, although he did get involved in the crash that marred Stage 4.

It’s a similar story at Radioshack, emerging from their own tumultuous year.  No Bruyneel, no Frank Schleck, and in terms of GC here, no Andy Schleck.  What they do have however is three riders within touching distance.  Tiago Machado finished third last year, and is primed for a real crack on Wilunga, but the emergence of the Belgian Ben Hermans and the young Kiwi George Bennett has surprised.  

Just 20 years old, Bennett is a precocious talent.  A former mountain biker, he grabbed the silver medal at the NZ Nationals two weeks ago and played a major team role on the US races at the back end of 2012.  If they let him off the leash, Bennett could be the surprise packet.

And it’s brotherly love at Euskatel with the Izagirre boys only fifteen seconds back.  Gorka, the elder is the more widely known, but it’s Jon who is maybe the one to watch with a Giro Stage win under belt last year.

The prospects of a battle royale are good, with several teams desperate to make a mark, knowing that Greipel’s superlative form means victory on the street circuit looks a formality.  So expect Gilbert, Gerrans, De Gendt, Velits and Iglinsky to give it a red hot go on the second ascent of the famous old hill.