Following stage two of the Tour Down Under on Wednesday, Orica-GreenEdge team director Matt White boldly stated "No one is going to drop Simon Gerrans." Apparently Cadel Evans (BMC) did not get the memo.
Joined by archrival Richie Porte (Team Sky), the soon-to-be 37-year-old, on14 February, Evans kicked with nine kilometres to go up the notorious Corkscrew Hill on stage three toward Campbelltown, quickly leaving both Porte and a respondent Gerrans in his wake.
"No surprise [Evans] had to do it on that climb," said White. "Willunga is nowhere near as hard a climb as the Corkscrew. Today was always going to be a big test for all the GC guys and Cadel had great ride."
Gerrans, a two-time Tour Down Under champion, relinquished the jersey to Evans, who has never worn the ochre leader's jersey in his vaunted career. Entering stage with a 13 second lead over Evans and 21 seconds over Porte, his two biggest threats, now finds himself sitting in second place nine spots ahead of Porte, now 33 seconds in arrears.
"That was one of the toughest parts of the tour," said Gerrans, who outsprinted both Evans and Porte earlier this month to capture his second Australian national road race championship. "Corkscrew is a very difficult climb especially when it comes to such a critical part of the stage. Everybody was going 100 per cent."
When Gerrans was asked if any alliance was discussed between himself and Porte to chase Evans down, after Porte had joked the day before about an offer of a collaboration with Evans in an attempt to unseat Gerrans' tightening stranglehold over the leader's jersey, he told Cyclingnews. "We definitely said 'come on let's work together' and try to catch him on the downhill but then as soon as I saw that group coming from behind us I knew Daryl Impey would be right there and a few other guys to hopefully work together to get Cadel back."
But Gerrans reinforcements offered little support after cresting the 2.4 kilometre climb averaging nine per cent gradient. "I sort of waited for those guys hoping for a little bit of collaboration to bring back Cadel but that point I think everyone was on their limits and I don't think we took too much more time out of him after that."
With stage four to Victor Harbour being ideally-suited for pure sprints like Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel, Orica-GreenEdge will be targeting stage five's Willunga Hill to pull back time and hopefully slip Gerrans back into ochre.
"It wont be easy to get back but its not impossible," said Gerrans on taking back the leader's jersey. "I don't think we have ever seen anyone start that Willunga stage in the lead hold that all the way to the finish.
"It's not going to be easy for Cadel," added Gerrans, referring to Willunga's uphill finish used for the past two tours. "We are going to throw everything we've got at him. Cadel is going to have to pull out something pretty special to hold that lead and win that stage as well."