By Paul Verkuylen in Adelaide, Australia
Their brash Aussie sprinter was king for a day, but then their quiet Aussie super-domestique was taken out in a hectic bunch gallop - such are the fortunes of Rabobank in Australia in the 2008 Tour Down Under.
On Wednesday, Rabobank's Graeme Brown became the second Australian race leader in as many days at the Tour Down Under, the first round of the 2008 ProTour. After placing second in stage two and third in the opening stage, he took the jersey away from then race leader Mark Renshaw (Credit Agricole) on a countback.
Brown only kept the jersey for a day, as he was curiously absent in the finale of stage three, although his Rabobank team-mate, Mathew Hayman, fought hard to come third. "I started sprinting too far back when we were coming into Victor Harbor, I was back in around 50th, I sprinted OK, I think I ended up around 19th." Brown explained that he was on Hayman's wheel at the time, but going through the last corners he messed up and ended up too far back.
Hayman was once again in the thick of it in Friday's stage four, except he was the apparent victim of some rough-house riding and crashed heavily, 200 metres from the line, losing a lot of skin and breaking his collarbone. Immediately after the sprint, Brown turned and rode back to help him back on to his bike, and Hayman did indeed finish the stage, albeit in some pain and his TDU certainly over for 2008.
Sprinting is a dangerous game and in the past, Brown himself has been known for playing it fairly loose in the finale. But no longer. He explained that he has changed his style of sprinting over the past year, not using anger as a means of motivating himself as a sprint approaches. "I used to (use anger as motivation) and I used to get disqualified a lot," he explained. "Now I try to keep as calm as I can, a lot of people don't think that I am that calm when it comes to a finish but the last year I have tried to be really as relaxed as I can at the finish and I find it much more beneficial."
Although recognising the importance of securing the leader's Ochre jersey, Brown was still disappointed with his second place on the day he secured it. He clearly preferred a stage win over the jersey. "I am pretty happy; leading a ProTour event is a pretty big thing. I would have preferred to win, but this is not a bad consolation," Brown said after stepping down off the podium in his new jersey on Wednesday afternoon.
The rider he took it from, Mark Renshaw, hails from not only the same country, but also the same State and career paths. Both are accomplished track cyclists, as Brown secured two gold medals on the boards in Athens 2004 and Renshaw was a member of that same Olympics track squad. Brown said while he and Renshaw are good mates off the bike, on the bike they are rivals. "I don't care who I take the jersey from," Brown said. "As long as I have it is good. I don't really like losing that much, I know it is ProTour ... but losing really does suck."
There was slight mix-up during the presentation of the race leader last Wednesday, that simply highlighted the closeness of the first ProTour event for the year. The assembled media was presented with Renshaw as the leader of the Tour and interviews had already taken place, but then it was discovered that Renshaw's seventh place on the stage was not enough to retain the jersey. Brown, in fact, was the new leader of the tour on countback.
With three riders all on the same time, UCI regulations stipulate that if multiple riders all on the same aggregate time - as was the case on Wednesday - a countback is required to determine the leader, based on their finishing positions in the stages. Brown had been the most consistent thus far, and was given the lead.
Into tomorrow's stage, Brown was confident that he can ride well, even though the terrain is not his forte. "I have been climbing well this week so I think that it should go alright," he explained. "There is 20 kilometres from the top to the finish so it could all come back together, but it will be an all out effort for about eight minutes [the climb], so we will see."