The pressure was on Orica-GreenEdge to make it three consecutive Australian national road titles on Sunday and Simon Gerrans was the man to rise to the occasion and record his second green and gold jersey in three years. The WorldTour team well and truly had the biggest target in its back and while Drapac animated the race with strong representations in breaks throughout the day, the quality of Gerrans was the decisive factor in claiming the win.
Despite seeing a 17-man break form early in the race, including GreenEdge riders, which built a lead that at one point was close to four minutes, team director sportif Matt White explained the race tactics to Cyclingnews.
"We had a clear plan of what we wanted to achieve and to have guys we were confident with in the breakaway, [Luke] Durbridge and [Simon] Clarke, we also knew that we had to have the guarantee of the win or otherwise we were going to shut it down," he said.
"Clarkey went a couple of times but couldn't shake the likes of Bernie Sulzberger, [Adam] Hansen and [Steele] von Hoff so close to the finish so we went with our 'Plan A' which is Simon Gerrans. He delivered, so tactically it went well."
Luke Durbridge narrowly missed out on recording his third win in the time trial on Wednesday and was hungry to defend his road title that he won by soloing to victory last year and sacrificed personal aspirations for the team. "We had a meeting Saturday night and everyone was clear that the important thing was to stick to the plan. Individual goals have to go out the window when it comes to a race like that," White explained.
"Durbo had his chance, for example if he'd gone away solo with three laps to go, we were happy for that to go to the line."
In a "strange race" White told Cyclingnews that GreenEdge felt they were accurate in predicting and responding to Drapac's tactics. "The problem that those guys had, they had the same numbers we did, but they haven't got the quality of riders that we do that can finish off the job and that's always a problem.
"If it came down to the best of the best on the last climb, they were just a little bit short. [Darren] Lapthorne was good but just wasn't good enough to go with the likes of [Cadel] Evans, [Richie] Porte, Gerro or Cam Meyer. So that's the difference."
"Sometimes you get cabin fever down at the Hilton for two weeks so we'll come in late besides [Daryl] Impey who comes in Tuesday night. We'll do one re-con day on Friday and obviously the goal for us is to win the race."
GreenEdge only won one race overall race courtesy of Pieter Weening at the Tour of Poland in 2013 but as White explained, the team are aiming to "walk away" with both the Tour Down Under and the Jayco Herald Sun Tour as they are the only "two UCI races in Australia" as they aim for more overall victories this season.
Gerrans is chasing his third overall win but the team will also look to mix it up in the sprints. "When gc does become an objective, you have to put things into perspective but we'll take it day-by-day and see how things are going," he said.
"Obviously gc is a big goal but we do have some fast guys there with [Matt] Gossy and [Michael] Matthews. The first stage is the Cancer Classic and we'll be looking for a win there."
The main rivals for the victory are likely to be fellow Australians tipped White who added that Javi Moreno (third overall last year) would also be a threat but that it was likely the race could be wide open. "Moreno is always good this time of year and Movistar will have a fit team in January, they always come out with a complete team for Tour Down Under.
"Because Tour Down Under isn't a mountainous race, there can always be surprises like last year's winner (Tom-Jelte Slagter) who no one has really heard of before."
White suggested that the Australian road race was an indicator of who was in form. "The three guys from the podium will be the same contenders for the overall," he said. As with any stage race, White was not discounting the depth and strength of Team Sky. "I think they will have a really good team and can go with a two pronged attack of Geraint Thomas and Richie.
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