After missing the past two editions of the Santos Tour Down Under, 2006 champion Simon Gerrans is back in Adelaide with the motivation of a potential winner after showing great form by taking the bronze medal at the Australian Open Road Race Championship on Sunday in Ballarat.
"I'm pleased with how it was going at the National's," Gerrans told Cyclingnews after his arrival in Adelaide. "We had a plan at Team Sky to help me try and win and we pretty much stuck to the plan but you can't be disappointed to be beat by someone like Jack [Bobridge] who is such an outstanding rider.
"It's still nice to have something even though it's only a bronze medal and not what I wanted at the start. It shows the good work done by the team and how we prepared for this season," he added.
As he reached the Adelaide Hilton, Gerrans saw himself pictured on the wall as the first man to have won the Tour Down Under after the introduction of the ochre leader's jersey in 2006. "It seems like it was a long time ago," the Victorian said. "I've had a few wins since then but the Tour Down Under was a different race back then too.
"Up until 2007, it was an opportunists' race but in the past three years it's been very much a sprinters' race. When you look at the field this year, a majority of the best sprinters in the world are here. For me, plenty of people will ride for a bunch sprint but there are some hills on the course and maybe we'll upset the sprinters on several occasions."
As the slogan of the Santos Tour Down Under goes, Gerrans is 'feeling the rush' again as he'll line up in Australia's biggest cycling event for the first time since he became the first Australian to win a stage in each of the three Grand Tours (France in 2008, Italy and Spain in 2009).
Two years ago he joined the Cervélo TestTeam, which wasn't in the ProTour and therefore didn't qualify for the Australian event; he chose to miss it during his first season with Team Sky last year. "In 2009, I finished my season late, so it was logical to start my 2010 season a bit later too," he recalled. "But in 2010, I finished quite early with the world championship in Geelong, so I also started racing earlier with the Bay Crits in Australia."
Gerrans' 2010 season was badly affected by a heavy fall at the Criterium International that left him a bit short in condition for the Ardennes Classics, where he made the top 10 in all three of them the previous year. Two other nasty crashes took him out of the Tour de France and his preparation for the World's was shortened by Team Sky's early retirement from the Vuelta a Espana following the death of their masseur Txema Gonzalez.
"I want to try and race a little more this year," explained Gerrans. "It's not about doing more days of racing but each time I'll race I want to be competitive and have an objective in mind, whether it's for the team or myself. I'm not using a race for a training ride this year."
As there is a new policy at Team Sky that riders aren't allowed to disclose their race program until the team management releases it, cycling fans aren't supposed to know yet where Gerrans will be racing this year, but the Victorian admits that the Ardennes Classics are still a major objective for him.
He also welcomed the arrival of GC riders such as Rigoberto Uran and Michael Rogers to Sky. "We've really grown as a team," he commented. "We'll all race much better this year. After the disappointments of last year, a few of us want to get back on top of the results." And if his physical form is anything to go by, Gerrans looks like he's already back.