Simon Gerrans got his bid for a record third final overall victory at the Tour Down Under off to the best possible start when he defeated André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) in the bunch finish in Angaston at the end of stage 1.
Led deftly by his Orica-GreenEdge teammates Daryl Impey and Michael Matthews, Gerrans out-duelled one of the WorldTour's fastest sprinters into a headwind on an uphill finish at the end of the 135-kilometre stage, which began in Nuriootpa.
"Look Simon is fast," said Orica-GreenEdge sports director Matt White. "He beat Peter Sagan last year to win a stage in the Tour de France. It's quite a deceptive climb from two or three kilometres up until 400 metres to go, and it does hurt the big boys. It just showed that Simon was a lot fresher than the big boys today."
Gerrans, who won the Tour Down Under in 2012 in GreenEdge's debut WorldTour race, also won the event 2006, when he took the first stage in Angaston and then held the jersey for the entirety of the race.
The 33-year-old showed his early-season form by claiming the Australian road race title earlier this month, and he outlined his intentions here by taking third place on the second intermediate sprint point to gain a one second bonus. In the overall standing, Gerrans now has a five-second lead over Greipel but importantly, he is 11 seconds ahead of rivals Cadel Evans (BMC), Robert Gesink (Belkin) and Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp).
"I won the stage in Angaston here in 2006 and held the jersey right through," said Gerrans. "It is a heck of tough task these days as the race is at a much higher level than what it was in 2006, but I have a fantastic team and I am sure the guys are going to give me 100 per cent and give me every opportunity to win.
Gerrans also said the time bonuses collected on the day will be critical as the race progresses. "It is a lot better to be 11 seconds in front than 11 seconds behind at this stage," he said. "We see year after year this race is won by a matter of seconds so every second you can get helps."
His sports director Matt White said that Orica-GreenEdge plans to defend the ochre jersey for the duration of the race.
"We plan on keeping the jersey all the way until Sunday," said White. "Tomorrow is another short stage. It's a great little stage around Stirling and hopefully we can back up with another win tomorrow."
While protecting the overall lead will be the team's main priority, White acknowledged that it won't be easy with the major general classfication contenders still in the hunt, including Cadel Evans.
"I think Cadel will be very good here once the race gets a bit harder tomorrow and on the corkscrew stage," White said. "I am sure Movistar guys have someone in good position whether it be [Jose Joaquin] Rojas or [Javier] Moreno, and there's always some big surprises. It's a short, intense tour and there are a lot guys still to watch."
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