by Gregor Brown and John Trevorrow
Thrilling finale in Sun Tour
Simon Gerrans has become the first cyclist in 32 years to successfully defend his Herald Sun Tour victory in a nail biting finale to this year's edition of Australia's oldest stage race.
In front of cycling legend Eddy Merckx, Gerrans was led home by none other than his teammate in the composite Jayco Australian National Team, Robbie McEwen, to take the overall victory by a handful of seconds. McEwen played a key role in helping Gerrans secure the win throughout the 80-minute plus three lap criterium held in and around Melbourne's "little Italy" on a bright and warm spring day in the Victorian capital.
Thousands of Melburnians turned out to watch the action, which had changed from being a somewhat predictable sprinters' demonstration day into a gripping criterium that would decide the outcome of the race. It included two intermediate sprints with time bonuses, so the action was on from the gun.
Going into the final stage, Chris Jongewaard (Savings & Loans) led the race by only one second ahead of Irishman David McCann (Giant Asia Racing), with Gerrans in third place but on the same time as McCann (their only fractions of a second separated their GC placings).
But as they hit the line for final time, it was Gerrans' teammate McEwen who took out the stage win (and associated 10-second time bonus), ahead of Menzies and Gerrans (with their respective six and four second time bonuses). The four-second time bonus was Gerrans' final winning margin in what had been one of the closest stage races seen in Australia for many years.
McEwen's controversial tactics
Sprinting legend Robbie McEwen took the final stage of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour finishing Saturday in Carlton. The sprint by McEwen helped his teammate Gerrans win the final overall, but the day was not without controversy.
A crash at the back of the circuit - and outside of TV coverage - involving sprint champion Hilton Clarke (Navigators) and holding up McEwen, almost changed the outcome of the race, except both of the riders re-joined the field within the lead break.
Their rejoining led to repeated protests from Irishman David McCann, who was gesturing to commissaires that the sprinters should not have been allowed to take a lap out and then re-join the lead break becauseMcEwen's presence gave his team-mate Gerrans a very useful lead-out man for the intermediate sprints.
However, race officials were unmoved and McEwen was allowed to stay in the break, where he led out Gerrans for the following intermediate sprints and finish.
"This is bullshit," said a charged David McCann after the stage. "McEwen crashed before the break went away and he came back into the race in the break-away. It's just not on."
Another expert who should know, Eddy Merckx, agreed. The cycling legend was on hand in Carlton, watching with a stopwatch in hand. Merckx said he was disappointed, as he is a fan of McEwen's fighting spirit and sprinting.
McCann was also very angry at a situation that happened earlier in the Tour. After passing the 500m to go sign for an intermediate sprint, some 100m later a flag appeared from behind a car to indicate the line for the intermediate sprint. At the time, McCann was trailing Gerrans and he was setting himself up to make a run for the sprint but instead, he lost another couple of seconds.
"I don't want this to sound like it's sour grapes," said the Irishman. "Because I wouldn't have won this tour. But all these little things just make me angry." When asked if he would return to race next year, the Irishman answered, "No".
For complete Sun Tour Stage 7 results, report, and photos, click here.