Stage 1 - January 18, 2006
We're all strong riders, but there's no sprinter, so our team plan today was for all of us to be up there [in the breaks] to take out the teams classement, and maybe a few of us might be strong enough to hold onto GC.
Everything went perfectly for us. Within five k or so, [team-mate Robert] McLachlan and Sean Higgerson [South Australia.com - AIS] went up the road and that was good for us - we could just follow their moves after that and sure enough, when that first small hill [sprint] came along after 20k, they [the attacks] started and we had all of us up there going with them. We had a go at that [the KOM] too but just got nudged out - I was trying to help Gene [Bates], but we weren't successful.
It was just on for the next 15k until those 25 riders or so got away. We caught the other two, but the main group, I thought they were going to get us at one stage. Coming up to that [first] sprint, I was ready to make a move; I was watching the time gaps come down - it went from a minute to 30 seconds to 15 - I knew the roads exactly to that point.
But it went back out and we just waited and kept working because we had five up there; we kept slogging away pretty hard. When that first sprint came, a few guys at the front were looking at each other and I just took off quickly for that and got away just in time. After that sprint, the bunch kept on working a bit better; obviously, that's when we started getting that time away from the bunch and they gave up.
We worked well for 40-odd k until it split, around the 100 kilometre mark. McEwen and another rider [Sanchez] rolled off the front, not really attacking, but when they turned 'round and saw they had a little gap, they took off and a few counters went. We got across to 'em and the bunch split in half.
The next split was around 40 to go and I was feeling a little bit bad at that stage. I went back to get a drink, thought maybe some water would help, then the next split went while I was back at the team car... I just had enough to get back onto the group, but not enough to get onto the break.
We went downhill and Gene took off, he got with a little group, then [team-mate] Chris Jongerwaard took off; me and Sean [Sullivan] sat in - there was nothing we could do. It was actually pretty good we had two up there; unfortunately Gene and Jongerwaard never got across to the front four, but it's still good to have two up there 'cos we were the only team with that.
Our group just did nothing - we lost a fair bit of time quickly - but sort of started working with 20k to go, not very well. I took off in the last two k just for the team classement - I didn't know if any of those guys with us were dangerous. It was for 11th or 12th place, but for the teams [classification], I didn't know if I had to beat these guys or whatever. But a pretty good day, really: we got the teams by 10 minutes!
I'm in the sprint jersey. I'm not winning it - Gerrans is - but there's four of us on six points and because I won the other sprint, I got the jersey. Obviously, I'm not going to win it if it comes down to sprints, but I'm a pretty strong rider where I can get up the road and sneak sprints here and there, just from attacking with a k to go or something. Now that I've got it, I'll be trying; I really want to win something this tour. Now, I'm also four and a half minutes off the lead in 12th GC, so I'll still be riding for GC and the teams [classification] is looking really good. Really good.
What happened today isn't unusual; the first 20 get away, the bunch will sit up when the right riders are up the road, and after that, it narrows down the riders that you're watching, so it's hard to get time after that. [Simon] Gerrans is in a very good spot; it will be very hard to make up time, but cycling's cycling, and it's not impossible - we'll be trying to get Gene up there.
Half of the guys from Europe are not in their [peak] fitness, and when the right riders are up the road, they will just sit back; if someone keeps wanting to get away, they're just going to stop [chasing], and if they're happy with who's up the road, they'll just close the race down.
We haven't had a team meeting, but I would think it's very important to keep Gene in the top five. It's also very important if we can get a few in the top ten overall, concentrate on the teams [classification] and the jerseys and trying to get a stage - if we can do any of those and have two or three in the top ten overall, that's good as well. We're just going to take one day at a time, but at the end of the day, our number one goal is to win the tour and if we can get Gene to sneak back some time, and it looks like we can do it, we'll do it and put everything into it.
Overall, I still feel really good. I see a lot of guys hurting a lot, and I had a few bad moments in the race, but I think I saw a lot of other guys having worse. There's still a lot of fresh guys, but most of them aren't fit enough for it, anyway.
I'm still confident in myself; it's good when you've done the preparation and just know you can be there. It's the type of guess where you've got to be aggressive to be there, I guess.
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