Prior to winning the inaugural Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, Gianni Meersman had only ever claimed victory in a single one-day race despite having 14 victories to his name. The 29-year-old has preferred to rack up victories at stage races and on four occasions has won multiple stages at the same race.
Having made the selection for the front group of nine riders in the closing 20km of the new UCI 1.1 race, Etixx-QuickStep's Meersman was the fastest finisher, which his companions recognised by trying to make it as hard as possible up the final climb and reeling in late escapee Moreno Moser (Garmin-Cannondale). From there, the stage was set for a duel between Meersman and Garmin's Nathan Haas.
"Winning is really important so it’s good to get my first win of 2015," Meersman said. "This was my last race here so I was really looking forward to it and aiming to give the team victory.
"When I looked behind me [in the final kilometres] I saw the group coming so I really had to gamble and pull because I knew Nathan [Haas] was really quite fast as well so I had to be in his wheel and with the headwind, I had to time my effort well. When Haas went, I saw the 150m sign so I went on the right side and happily I had the good legs.
"At Tour Down Under I wasn’t at 100% as it’s quite early in the season. On Monday, we had a rest day then did three really good 4-6 hour training days then the last two days I took it easy. I am really happy.
With his teammates Maxime Bouet and Pieter Serry both active in the day’s breakaways, Meersman said that he felt almost duty-bound to finish the job and claim the victory.
"It is only one place that counts, first place," Meersman said. "To be honest, last year and the year before I had a lot of second places but no one talks about second. The winner takes it all and sometimes you win and sometimes you have to gamble. The last two kilometres I saw the small group was coming up quite fast but you have to stay calm and think and hope that you can make it to the last 150 metres and give it your all for the win."
Meersman returns to Europe with two races behind him and one win to his name while the majority of his teammates only have training camp miles in their legs. When asked whether January is too early to be racing, Meersman said: "No, I don’t think so because otherwise you have to do a training camp and we’ve been here one month with good weather, expect for today but it was still 20 degrees so I don’t think we can complain. I think Europe can learn a lot from Tour Down Under and this race as well. The crowds were really good and so is the marketing."
After a short rest upon his return to Belgium, Meersman outlined his season objectives.
"Now when I get home I have one easy week then a training camp in Spain," he said. "After that I do Algarve, Romandie, Catalunya, Basque Country and hopefully get stage wins over there. I want to win at every WorldTour stage race I do."
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