Team Sky experienced mixed fortunes in stage two of the Criterium International. Russel Downing gave Team Sky their eighth win of the season and the first by a British rider, but Simon Gerrans crashed and abandon after 25 kilometres of racing.
Downing out sprinted HTC-Columbia’s Michael Albasini and race leader Pierrick Fédrigo, (BBox Bouygues Telecom) on the hilly finish leading up to the old town of Porto-Vecchio. “This is what I wanted to do”, a delighted Downing said. “I knew it would be a sprint with no sprinters, so it would be an open finish.”
When Downing crossed the line, Gerrans could hear the voice of race commentator Daniel Mangeas from his hotel room. “I look like a pizza”, he joked during a phone conversation with Cyclingnews. His crash was caused by a tree. His bike was broken in two pieces but fortunately he wasn’t seriously injured. “The second team car took me straight to the hotel and the doctor cleaned me up here”, the Australian said.
That means the high ambitions Team Sky has set for him at the Ardennes classics aren’t in jeopardy and he’ll follow the race plan that includes taking part in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco in early April.
In order to peak his form for the hilly Ardennes classics, Gerrans skipped the Santos Tour Down Under which he won in 2006, while Downing begun his ProTour career with Team Sky in Adelaide.
"I started good”, the Englishman remembered. “The Criterium International was the first goal on my list and now the Amstel Gold Race is a big target of mine. I’ve won some 1.1 races in Belgium [the Druivenkoers in 2006] and stages all over the world but this victory is special because it’s for Team Sky”, Downing continued. “This is where I wanted to be since I’ve been riding a bike, probably since I was six years old.”
The 31 year old was picked by Dave Brailsford and his staff after winning the Tour of Ireland last year for the CandiTV team. His runner up in Dublin was Norway’s Lars-Petter Nordhaug who also joined Sky upon request of Edvald Boasson Hagen. He proved to be an excellent lead out man for the Englishman in Corsica.
“The boys worked for me during all the stage”, Downing said. “Two of them brought the breakaway back. Thomas (Löfkvist) rode in front of me for the last ten or fifteen kilometres. Then Lars-Petter did an amazing job. With 2km to go, I was on second or third wheel but I went back to fifteenth, that’s when Lars-Petter brought me back up to the front. I told him to jump on the HTC-Columbia train. I could see it’s gonna be close but I stayed in control for the last 200 metres.”