Australian Simon Gerrans added to his country's successes in this year's Tour de France by taking a hard-fought stage win on Sunday's finish at the Italian ski resort of Prato Nevoso. The 28-year-old said that a Tour stage win has been his goal since he began racing in Europe. "It still hasn't really sunk in yet," said Gerrans. "It is great to be able to say I have now won a stage of the Tour. It is amazing."
The Crédit Agricole rider was one of four men who made up the stage-long breakaway; he joined Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel Euskadi), Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R La Mondiale) and Danny Pate (Garmin-Chipotle) at the 16 kilometre mark, and the quartet went into the final climb with more than ten minutes' advantage on the chasing bunch.
"When we started that final climb with such an advantage on the peloton I thought we could hang on. It was only then that I began to think it was possible to stay away but it wasn't until the last couple of hundred metres that I thought I could win," Gerrans said.
The Melbourne native was in danger of being dropped by the accelerations of Pate and Martinez, but fought to stay in contact on the category one climb. "I was really in trouble, but once I caught [Danny] Pate and [Egoi] Martinez again, I did what I could to hang on."
Gerrans spent the early part of the Tour working for the team's sprinter Thor Hushovd, but had also been trying to make the breakaway without success. "In the few stages leading up to today, I thought suited a breakaway and I was trying and trying and trying to get in the move. It just wasn't happening for me.
"A big mountain stage like today is not one in which I'd usually back myself to go for the win but I thought, 'I've got nothing to lose, there's a rest day tomorrow' and I gave it everything to get in the break. Once I was there it was just a matter of racing with three other guys and not the whole peloton.
"It was only in the last kilometre that I started believing that I could get the better of the other guys. They were climbing better than me that's why I wasn't giving them much support at the finish, but under the red kite I realised I was in with a real crack at the win."
Gerrans is one of nine Australians who started this year's Tour de France, and has been seeking out a stage win since his debut in 2005. "It's been my aim at every Tour de France to try and win a stage this is my fourth one and it's taken until now to finally pull it off but it's better late than never, huh?"
The win may help shore up the team's sponsor search. Crédit Agricole decided to end its sponsorship, and manager Roger Legeay has been busy seeking out a replacement for the bank. Gerrans wrote earlier this week on his personal web site about how the Tour's doping scandals might hurt the delicate sponsorship negotiations.
"What really concerns me is if he [Legeay] has a sponsor that hasn't yet signed on, will they now not [sign] because of the doping fiasco? That is the biggest concern for me at this point.
"When guys like Riccò are caught cheating they don't realise the influence it has on the cycling industry - not only on their team-mates, but other teams as well, which is really sad."