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.
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.