Gerrans seizes Giro d’Italia lead after faultless display from Orica-GreenEdge

History repeated itself - not once, but twice - for Simon Gerrans and Orica-GreenEdge on Saturday when the 34-year-old and his team claimed the first maglia rosa of the 2015 Giro d’Italia with victory in the opening team time trial.

That double triumph closely paralleled the Australian squad’s Tour de France victory in the team time trial in 2014, when Gerrans wore yellow after the team’s win in the first week TTT. And it also followed up Orica-GreenEdge’s team time trial victory in the opening stage of last year’s Giro on a rain soaked Friday night in Belfast.

This time round, though, the squad’s team time trial victory took place some 2,200 kilometres further south in warm Italian sunshine and with the glasshouses of Sanremo’s famous flower industry on the skyline.

But regardless of the scenery, Orica GreenEdge’s victory was equally convincing. In Sanremo they won by seven seconds over Tinkoff-Saxo. That was five seconds faster than their winning margin in 2014 over Quick Step, despite the Belfast course being four kilometres longer.

“Sanremo is a very special place for me and for the team,” Gerrans said. “It was a fantastic effort and it’s great to get the maglia rosa here.”

“We looked at the route yesterday, we made a plan getting into the race, and everybody committed fully to that plan. We’ve got some good team time trial specialists in the team, and thanks to that big effort on everybody’s part, we have the win today.”

Orica-GreenEdge had not left a stone unturned in their preparation for the time trial, checking over the course three times, twice on Friday and once again this morning.

”We knew it was very important to start strongly in the team time trial, because the second half was so much faster and it’d be difficult to make up time," Gerrans said. "We had a strong start and we could maintain that to the finish.”

The Australian squad was barely down the start ramp when they were already three seconds up on previous fastest squad Astana - and after eight kilometres that difference had doubled to six seconds. Only Tinkoff-Saxo ended up being faster than Orica-GreenEdge by the first time split, but whilst Tinkoff-Saxo faded slightly in the second part, the Australian team's better calculated effort and more consistent effort netted Gerrans the first maglia rosa of the race.

“Obviously it’s a massive honour to be wearing the [leader's jersey], but I should be chopping the front half up into nine pieces and giving the nine pieces to all my different teammates and then doing the same to the back, but into about 50 pieces for everybody working on the team,” said Gerrans.

“With such close teammates here, it didn’t matter who crossed the line first and it wasn’t brought up in conversation until the start of the time trial when [director] Matt White said it would be me.”

“There’s a couple of reasons for this, we had some strong time trial specialists in the squad and their job was to ride and then peel off, leaving the group of guys who had the best chance of keeping the jersey.”

“With tomorrow [Sunday] almost certain to be a sprint, [Michael] Matthews is our best option there, whilst with Peter Weening” - himself a former Giro leader - “and Esteban Chaves we have other options for the hillier stages. Our overall goal, though, is to keep the jersey for at least the next few days.”

Already the first Australian to win stages in all three Grand Tours, Gerrans is now the latest in a long series of riders from his country to wear the pink jersey, including Matthews - who, as Gerrans hinted, could well be vying for his own spell in the lead. That certainly happened last year, when Matthews moved into the pink jersey in Belfast ahead of previous leader and Orica-GreenEdge teammate Svein Tuft and held it for six days. Matthews himself visited the winner’s podium today for a second time as he picked up the jersey of best young rider.

For Gerrans the maglia rosa has been a welcome morale boost given his recent history has been littered with crashes and injuries. First of all there was his broken collarbone whilst training over the winter, a broken elbow in the Strade Bianche and then, just as he was getting back into contention, his fall in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

“It’s been a very difficult start to the season, it seems like I’m constantly coming back from injuries,” Gerrans said. “I missed my first objectives like the Tour Down Under and then in Strade Bianche I got injured again and so I wasn’t in good shape for the Ardennes Classics. I gave it everything to ride for my teammates then and so I think this is a little bit of payback for me. I also hope I can turn my own results around from here on.”

After the Giro, Gerrans will head for the Tour de France. His last goal of the season, he thinks, will be the World Championships in Richmond, where as he sees it “is probably my last chance to win it. It’s not as good as Ponferrada” - where Gerrans took silver behind Michal Kwiatkowski - “but it could be good for me.”

Meanwhile there is his and Orica-GreenEdge’s twin triumph in San Remo to savour.

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.