Matt Wilson has guided the Orica GreenEdge team to its first ever stage win at the Tour Down Under, with Simon Gerrans going one better than last year on Willunga Hill on Saturday.
It was an almost unlikely victory for the reigning Milano-Sanremo winner, having struggled with hay fever and asthma all week. Matt Goss finished as runner-up in Stirling on Thursday but then he and key lead-out men Daryl Impey and Jens Mouris crashed with less than one kilometre left to race on Friday. The Tour Down Under is Orica GreenEdge's home race but that raises expectations sky high. After the problems early in the race, this was a win borne of desire in every sense.
"Everyone came here with really good form and it was just one disappointment after another until now," Wilson told Cyclingnews. "Now it's perfect. On Australia Day to win like that and to win after so many disappointments makes it so much better."
"It's a really good feeling. Of course I would have been disappointed if I had of came away without a win, especially since everyone's going so well. It's a big relief."
There were doubts in the morning over just whether Gerrans would be up for the win given his health issues this week, but Wilson had made himself clear before the 151.1km stage.
"I said whether you think you're going as good as you can or not, you're still our best chance to win and we'll back you and hope you have a good day," the former GreenEdge, Garmin, Team Type-1, Unibet and FDJ rider had told Gerrans.
While Gerrans win was important for the team as a whole, it also provides Wilson with a sense of validation given the incorrect perception that he was at the race simply because Orica GreenEdge sacked sports director Matt White in the wake of the USADA
"My program was already set," he confirmed. "I don't feel that I'm filing anyone's shoes. Everyone's putting the two beasts together and it's not the case."
Embracing the change
Wilson decided five years ago that directing was the direction that his career would head when he finished racing. He started taking note of what he liked and didn't like about people in that position. Wilson is not quite ready to share publicly any description of the type of director he would like to become but he admits that White was very much a role model.
"He brought the best out of people just by being himself," Wilson told Cyclingnews.
Wilson got a taste of his new life as a director at last year's Vuelta a Espana, after he called time on his 11-year career at the Vattenfall Cyclassics. But actually being the man behind the wheel is a different experience altogether, he explained.
"I'm loving it. Really, really loving it. You get to sink your teeth into it and you wake up every day and you know that it's all on you to get everything organised; I'm just loving the new challenge," he said. "You're just using your brain for the first time in a long time - you almost turn your brain off [racing]. It helps now to think about things too much. But now I feel alive."
Giro d'Italia stage winner debuts for Lampre in Australia
Roberto Ferrari's first appearance as a WorldTour rider earned him a second place behind the unbeatable André Greipel in stage 4 of the Santos Tour Down Under. But his debut at the WorldTour level doesn't mean that the Giro d'Italia stage winner has been warmly welcomed in the closed circle of the world's best sprinter. Anger is still in the air as Mark Cavendish isn't prepared to forgive the Italian for making him crash in Horsens last year in the sprint finale of the Giro's third stage. The rider from Brescia, however, seems pretty satisfied with his move from Androni to Lampre-Merida.
At the age of 30, following seven seasons in second-ranked teams (Tenax, LPR, De Rosa and Androni), the Italian finally signed for a ProTeam. "Moreover, it's not such a big change as cycling remains a tiring sport," Ferrari told Cyclingnews in McLaren Vale. "Sprints are still fast! The main difference in my mind comes from the organization of the team. It requires operations of a higher level to put 30 riders on the road.
"It's also new for me to be able to start my season with such a big race as the Santos Tour Down Under. Then I'll be riding prestigious events like Paris-Nice, Milan-Sanremo and the Giro d'Italia. I feel ready. My physical condition here in January is not excellent yet but good enough to let me take part in the sprints. My main goal is the Giro. I want to be at the best of my form in May."
Ferrari's race program is quite different from last year when he won stage 5 of the Tour de Taiwan in Changhua in front of the Buddha statue of Baguashan or the French Cup one-day races Route Adélie and Flèche d'Emeraude in Brittany. "I've also chosen to change teams to get the possibility to compete in the cycling world that really counts," he said. "I want to score at that level on the first occasion that I can catch. Sprinting might be an easier task in the WorldTour as many teams are focused for that. If there is a possibility for a sprint finish, it subsequently happens, whereas it requires more work from the team to get the whole bunch back together in races of a lower level."
Often criticized by his counterparts for sprinting dangerously, Ferrari admitted that he hasn't felt any real change in his relationship with other cyclists yet. "The respect from the adversaries comes from winning," he said. "I don't feel more respected yet. I need to win."
"I think it's important to start the season in good condition - not the best but still a little bit good," he told Cyclingnews.
"I've been training good but I still have to be much better than this. I stopped the season earlier so I had more training in the winter. I was really motivated with the jersey. I was training well. I think my endurance is perfect. I think I've built a good base for the season."
Gilbert was considered one of the favourites for overall success at the 2013 Tour Down Under, only to have his chances dashed by the mass pile-up on the Corkscrew Hill climb on stage two. He bounced back with a third place on stage three but was left to rue what might have been.
"It was so stupid to have lost [time] with the crash because with this third place maybe I would be in a good position but this is a race and you can't change this," he said.
On stage three Gilbert spent 118km blowing out the pre-season cobwebs in the break that dominated the stage. The reigning World Champion is in Australia as the first stepping stone towards his major season objective: the Ardennes Classics.
"I know I need to be 100 per cent there," Gilbert said. "I know if I'm 90 - 95 per cent now I know it's not possible to be 100 per cent in April. So I start the race slowly and my condition is coming up every week."
Gilbert found the going hard following the Corkscrew stage, with no position to defend on the general classification. Even before the queen stage on Willunga Hill, Gilbert was among the names mentioned as a possible winner, but the Belgian had switched off.
"I cannot fight for nothing," he told Cyclingnews. "If was top 10, my race would be different because I would be more focused,' he explained.
"I knew I was not in the battle anymore so it's hard to concentrate on it and to make sacrifices. You have to go deep and then when you're not in the race I cannot find the motivation for this."
Gilbert of course dominated the Ardennes in 2011, claiming the clean sweep of Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Asked if he could attempt the same feat again, the 30-year-old would not rule out the possibility.
"I did it once, maybe I can do it a second time," he mused. "It was quite amazing what I did that year and maybe it's impossible to do better but I will try and we'll see. Even if I win one classic it's good."
And what of the effect of the rainbow bands on the man arguably most dangerous? According to Gilbert, it's inconsequential.
"When I race I don't see them," he admitted. "When I'm on the bike, I don't think about what I did before - what I won before. I'm there to win a race. I just focus on the day - I'm there to win and I'll try to do my best. The past is the past."
Gilbert wasn't entirely certain that he'd milked everything out of his third appearance at the Tour Down Under, with Oman his next test coming in a fortnight's time.
"The thing is maybe the stages are a little bit short," he said. "At this time of the year we need kilometres. Maybe it's the only thing, if I could change something it was this. Maybe an hour more of racing every day would be nicer, then you would see a different race. Maybe more calm; less risk - maybe this is the only thing to change."
GB squad reverses disappointment of losing ochre jersey
The Sky Procycling team of former race leader Geraint Thomas could have started the final stage at the Tour Down Under wallowing in self pity after a disappointing end to Stage 6 at Old Willunga Hill. Thomas was wearing the ochre leader's jersey entering the queen stage and seemed destined to become the 15th winner of the tour but he cracked on the final ascent, losing the lead and dropping to fifth overall.
The team, however, had plenty to race for in the final stage around Adelaide and went about regaining some of what was lost the day prior.
In this video Thomas talks about the result of the stage to Old Willunga and the team's approach to step back onto the podium. At the end of the day it was Thomas who would finish the Tour Down Under in third overall, win most aggressive for the stage and also take home the sprint jersey.
“We were disappointed yesterday but there was still one day of racing left and we still had the chance of getting third,” said Thomas after he also collected the blue Jayco Sprints jersey from the stage.
“The boys [were] just incredible again really, all I had to do was just, well, try and get past Eddy [Boasson Hagen].
"I didn't count - I thought I already had 100," he told media following the sprint.
"It's always nice to get another win. We always took responsibility during the week for the sprints and I think we worked hard for sprint possibilities and we also dominated the sprint."
Dominate the mighty Lotto Belisol train did over the past seven days - first taking out the warm-up People's Choice Classic before getting down to business on Stage 1. His win on Stage 4 was Greipel's 13th at the Tour Down Under, breaking the record previously held by Robbie McEwen. Four sprints in a week, it was a clean sweep.
"We did for sprints, we won four," Greipel stated. "The team always did a big effort to bring me to the front and keep me out of trouble. Of course we would have liked to have had Adam Hansen in the top-10, it didn’t work out. I think with four victories we can be really happy."
When Greipel crossed the finish line after the 90km street circuit on Sunday, he had moved around Blanco's Mark Renshaw who had opened the sprint with around 300m to go. The German's acceleration made it look like Renshaw had been standing still.
"It was nearly the same scenario as last year," Greipel explained. "I don't know if he had my wheel but he surprised me a bit but I had some power left to get past him again.
"I think he did a really long, nice fast sprint. Even our lead-out was already fast. Of course it was fun what he did. I was about to kick also for the sprint. Of course he surprised me but I could go in his slipstream and I could pass him again."
André Greipel (Lotto Belisol) stamped his authority on the final day of racing is Australia as he sprinted to his fourth stage win of this year's Tour Down Under for the 100th victory of the German's career.
Phil Anderson and Cyclingnews' Australian Editor Alex Malone take a look over the action from the concluding stage in Adelaide plus reflect on the both this year's edition and the future of the Tour Down Under.
Coy on the idea of his own truth and reconciliation
Gianni Bugno, the head of the Cyclistes Professionels Associés (CPA), the International Cyclists' Association, has said that Lance Armstrong should pay for what he has done to cycling but contradictorily added that the sport shouldn't concentrate on the past.
Bugno's career as a professional was highlighted by back-to-back road race world championships in 1991-1992 plus the overall victory at the 1990 Giro d'Italia, a race he led from start to finish. The Italian, a competitor of Armstrong later in the 1990s, retired in 1998, a year before Armstrong won his first Tour de France; which was later stripped from him through USADA's Reasoned Decision.
"It's difficult to talk about. In my eyes, as an ex-athlete I respect him. I can't say he's a champion but I respect him as an athlete. However, if he has done something wrong he has to pay for that. It wasn't good what he did to cycling. He'll pay for what he has done," Bugno told Cyclingnews.
Last month Bugno, in his position as head of the CPA, appeared to welcome the concept of a truth and reconciliation package within cycling. There appears to be growing momentum for the idea too, even with the beleaguered UCI adding their support to the idea. Armstrong's legal counsel have also made noises on the topic. Although there is no framework in place WADA appear to be the only organisation with the ability to create a structure for cyclists, past and present, to come forward.
Bugno, however, appeared lukewarm on the idea, saying that cycling should look forward, although he added that he agreed with the ideology of truth.
"I think we should draw a line and close the past and go ahead with the future. We shouldn't concentrate on the past. I agree with truth and reconciliation as a concept but for me it's about the future."
Asked if he would be willing to come forward and cooperate with any information he had on his own career, or those he rode with during the 1990s when EPO use was arguably at its most rampant, Bugno said:
"When you talk about the past it's difficult to give an answer. Doping is a problem in all sports, not just cycling. I agree with the idea of talking about the truth but I don't see the point in looking into the past and going into that. I prefer to talk about the future even if I agree with the ideology of talking about the past."
"Talking about doping all the time isn't good. The anti-doping fight is really strong and we should concentrate on that. We can go into the past and look at what happened with Armstrong and everything that came out but this isn't good for cycling and that's what I've heard lately from talking to the riders. Now anyone who thinks about cycling thinks about doping."
Slagter scored 100 points for overall victory and 11 points for his stage results, to give him a total of 111 points. With teammates Wilco Kelderman scoring 40 points and Mark Renshaw a further six points, the Blanco Pro Cycling Team topped the team rankings with a total of 157 points, make for a successful start to the racing season for the troubled Dutch squad.
Euskaltel Euskadi is a distant second with 91 points and the Movistar Team is third with 87 points after both Spanish teams placed two riders in the top 15 overall. Javier Moreno was second overall for the Movistar Team, scoring 86 points tan dos is second to Slagter in the individual rankings. Britain's Geraint Thomas is third with 77 points after finishing third and winning a stage.
Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) is ninth in the individual ranking, with 18 points, after winning three stages in Australia.
Spain leads the nation ranking with a total of 177 points thanks to strong performances from Javier Moreno and brothers Jon and Gorka Izaguirre Insausti of Euskaltel Euskadi. They finished fourth and seventh overall at the Santos Tour Down Under to place Spain ahead of the Netherlands -second with 152 points, with Great Britain a more distant third with 78 points.
The next race on the WorldTour calendar is Paris-Nice in France between March 3-10.
WorldTour - Individuals
Tom Jelte Slagter (Ned) Blanco Pro Cycling Team
Javier Moreno Bazan (Spa) Movistar Team
Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Procycling
Jon Izaguirre Insausti (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
Ben Hermans (Bel) RadioShack Leopard
Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Blanco Pro Cycling Team
Gorka Izaguirre Insausti (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
Daniele Pietropolli (Ita) Lampre-Merida
André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol
Tiago Machado (Por) RadioShack Leopard
Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
Mark Renshaw (Aus) Blanco Pro Cycling Team
Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
Jussi Veikkanen (Fin) FDJ
Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ
Roberto Ferrari (Ita) Lampre-Merida
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling
Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team
Jonathan Cantwell (Aus) Team Saxo-Tinkoff
Simone Ponzi (Ita) Astana Pro Team
Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Movistar Team
Steele Von Hoff (Aus) Garmin-Sharp
Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Belisol
Andrew Fenn (GBr) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Sharp
Barry Markus (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team