Orica's teamwork pays off at last with Tour stage win
That was the last big box we wanted to tick, says White
In the absence of the peloton's team buses, which were being ferried to the mainland, the area beyond the line in Calvi had the feel of a late 20th century Tour de France stage finish. As riders collected their bags to go and get a shower in the nearby sports' hall, fans stopped them for autographs, while for Orica-GreenEdge post-stage celebrations were conducted in the middle of a dusty road alongside the town's airport.
Leading the way were DS Matt White and team boss Shayne Bannan, who hugged each other ecstatically after the photo finish had confirmed Simon Gerrans had held off Peter Sagan on the line. For White, the win was particularly significant as it came less just a fortnight after his return to the team having been stood down from his role in October last year having admitted using performance-enhancing drugs as a rider. White was reinstated halfway through the Tour of Switzerland, making the Tour de France his first full stage race since his return.
"We chased really hard for a stage win last year and we came up just short. To get one this early in the Tour is very gratifying," said White. "That was the last big box we wanted to tick. We've won at the Giro, Vuelta and now the Tour, as well as a Classic. Now we can set ourselves some more goals to aim for."
White revealed the team had spoken in the team briefing about working for Gerrans if the stage looked likely to finish with a sprint, and the team's strategy was based around that. Simon Clarke took the pressure off for most of the day by getting into the break, and when those riders were reeled in the Aussie team worked hard to ensure Gerrans got his chance.
"Clarkey went a lot further than we thought. Then we had to call numbers to the front near the end because that was a dangerous break with Sylvain Chavanel in it. Then Daryl Impey did an incredible lead-out. For Sagan not to get over the top of "Gerro" showed what a great performer he is. He might be small but he's a punchy little guy," said White.
Clarke was the second Orica rider to make it onto the podium after being selected as the stage's most aggressive rider. Before he went up to collect that prize, he said: "It was a perfect day, but it was a very hard day with lots of windy roads. I knew that even riding in the breakaway with five guys would be easier than fighting in the bunch all day. So, firstly, it was a positive move because it gave me a bit of an easier day at the front. Then, it also took the pressure off my teammates. We all knew "Gerro" had had a circle around this stage for a long time."
South African Daryl Impey deserved all of the credit he got for setting up Gerrans, but stressed it was a team effort. "We had already spoken before the stage about riding for Gerro in the final," said Impey, before giving his account of the final kilometre.
"Coming into it Sagan only had one guy left, so I let him pull for quite a while until he got a bit tired. I knew as we went into the final corner he would slow down because you can't keep going for that long at that speed. As he lulled we snuck through on the right-hand side and got the jump on Sagan. That's the only way to beat those guys, as pure sprinters come from behind with a bit of speed. Gerro had great legs and to hold off Sagan at the end was a huge achievement," said the South African.
"This win is massive for the team. It's the first stage victory for an Australian team in the Tour. Last year we were knocking on the door so many times, and this year we've finally got through it."
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).