By John Trevorrow in Revel
Young Australian AG2R-Prevoyance rider Simon Gerrans made his mark in his first Tour de France yesterday when he was part of the day's great escape, eventually finishing third behind Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) and Kurt-Asle Arvesen (CSC)>
The 25-year-old from Jamieson, Victoria, a protégé of Phil Anderson, was exhausted but ecstatic after the finish.
"Oh my god that is the hardest thing I've ever done," he dsaid. "At the top of that last hill I was absolutely knackered. Then I just ran out of legs in that last kilometer."
Nevertheless, Gerrans looked good coming into the last 10km. "That was just good acting I think," he aid. "I gave it everything to hold on to Arvesen but anyway I gave it all I had."
At this point we passed Michael Wilson who said 'good on you Simon.' "Merci," said Gerrans. I had to tell him that Wilson was in fact a fellow Aussie and had finished top 10 in the Giro. "How about that," grinned Gerrans.
The 17 man breakaway got to a maximum of 26 minutes before the leading group split after a severe attack from Erik Dekker with 50 km still to go. Australian sprinter Alan Davis (Liberty Seguros) looked the favourite as he as easily the fastest man in the group but he missed the split and finished 10th, 3:14 behind Savoldelli.
After the race a disappointed Davis would not speak. "Not today mate, not today," was all that he said.
The race for green was very interesting with the sprinters lining up to haggle over the last available points but Jan Ullrich put an end to all that with a severe attack on the final climb, putting 20 seconds into the peloton. Armstrong was quick to react and close the gap to his German rival as did Basso.
"I rode well up the last climb and was only 100 metres behind Lance's group over the final climb," Stuart O'Grady said.
Cadel Evans (Davitamon) missed the move and lost 20 seconds to drop him one spot to eighth behind Vinokourov.
Gerrans camp celebrates
It felt like old home week with Phil Anderson there with his Tour group (Anderson's fifth place in the 1982 Tour is still the best result by an Australian) along with Greg Griffiths and Simon's good friend Steve Ward. They were going ballistic.
Gerrans now lives in Mansfield when not racing the roads of Europe, but originally comes from neighboring Jamieson where he met Phil Anderson. "I knew him as just plain Phil the neighbor long before I found out that he was a world class cyclist," said Gerrans.
During this Tour, Gerrans said he had been in touch with Anderson. "I've had contact a couple of times, last week when I was seriously suffering. He gave me support."
What advice did Anderson have for the youngster? "Just to keep plugging away. You speak to Phil about struggling through the mountains and he said: `I remember the mountain I had the yellow jersey through there.' He is a classic guy to have around.
Gerrans thought his day was going well till the final climb. "I was getting up there all right," said Gerrans. "It was just up the top I didn't really nail it. I thought Arveson was the best wheel to follow. He might not be the quickest up the hill but I thought he might be strong enough to get back on."
Erik Dekker's move had been no surprise, though the timing was unexpected. "Everyone knew Dekker was going to go. He went a lot earlier than I thought. I thought the attacks might start 30km to go but he went 50km out."
As they cam into the last few hundred metres, "I thought I was going to get fourth place but then saw Hinault stopping so I kept going."
They say no battle plan survives engagement with the enemy, but this stage was on Gerrans' plan for his debut Tour de France. "I looked at all the stages and there was maybe five days I thought, 'maybe this one', and today was one of the ones I penciled out. It was rolling up and down all day. I thought should get over them and I did and it nearly came off.
And next, "I have to struggle to Paris," said Gerrans. "I'm rapt. Its beyond all expectations. I said at the start of the race I would like to win a stage. I said that and it nearly happened."
Gerrans started on two wheels with an engine, but an injury caused him to switch to non-motorised bikes. "I took up cycling at 17 for rehabilitation after injuring my knee in a moto cross race. Phil Anderson lent it to me. After a bit of rehab he said if you are interested in racing I'm happy to coach you. That's how I got into racing."
Gerrans didn't realize at first just how good a rider his neighbour had been. "With Phil I just knew him as Phil, the guy who had the farm up the road," said Gerrans. "I knew him as Phil the bloke before I knew him as Phil Anderson the cyclist. I am still realising how good he was. These races I am doing now, he ripped them apart 20 years ago."
As for all the Australian contingent at the Tour, reeling from the news of the death of Amy Gillett and the injuries to their AIS women's team colleagues, this has been a tough few days for Gerrans. "This week has been very hard," he said. "I was inspired by Cadel's ride. I thought if I do cross the line first today, I would dedicate it to the girls and their families and all the trauma they have been through this week. I will dedicate my third place to them still. My heart goes out to them."
Phil Anderson was delighted at gerran's ride today. "It would have been nice [for Gerrans] to win," said Anderson, "but geez it was great to be in the break and to come up with a place is just awesome. I have to go and give him a kiss!
"I never thought he would make it over here let alone make it onto a Tour team. And to make into a Tour like this is great. Everybody will take notice of him now.
"It's a good placing for AG2R and they will take him seriously. He is a serious type of rider but it is results that speak for themselves.
Steve Ward, Gerrans' friend and confidant from home in Mansfield was also in Revel for Gerrans' finish. "We watched the sprint and the feed and saw him in the break - it is awesome!" Ward said. "I've known him since he was just a little tacker and he was always a determined young kid. He was a good swimmer, a top level snow-boarder and a brilliant moto cross rider. He was racing at state level when he smashed his knee and just got on the bike for rehab. Who would have guessed that this would happen?"